It begins as a drinking club in an academic backwater on the Stanford University campus of the late 1970s. A post-Nixon/post-Mao generation of China scholars plots to make a better world. Suddenly, the U.S. recognizes the People's Republic of China. Intense demand arises for the unique skills the Mandarin Club members possess.
Now, yesterday's dreamers are today's policy-makers and pundits, patriots and spies. Their intimately intertwined past thrusts them together into an international crisis straight from tomorrow's headlines, as America, China, and Taiwan stumble toward war.
Rachel Paulson, the one-time Rocky Mountain ranch girl, has become a top Washington lobbyist. Alexander Bonner, the sage reporter, now tracks ominous intelligence leaks. Branko Rosza, the cleverest of the originals, heads China analysis at the CIA, manipulating the pieces of their puzzle. Mickey Dooley, their one-time ringleader, now peddles satellite technology to Communists with the cool aplomb of a mortuary salesman. Evanescent Barry Lavin, father and friend, floats in and out of their lives with alarming ease, obscuring his private mysteries. Martin Booth, the earnest minister's son, works the Congress, haunted by the contradictions of power. Watching them all is their once-adopted Beijing exchange student, Lee Tai Ling, the stubborn Chinese nationalist, who remains torn between ideology and individualism.
Told sequentially from the perspective of each of the Stanford originals, the tale takes readers behind the scenes of rogue intelligence operations and high-tech smuggling, from Washington and Beijing to the wild coastal towns of California.