I had to go back and read the Wikipedia entry for the movie, because the last 50 pages of this book were pretty shocking and I didn’t recall them. But the movie ended up being pretty faithful to the book.
This book is awesome: really truly and wholeheartedly. It’s awful too — casual misogyny and homophobia at times, plenty of 1950s racism too — so be forewarned. But as a deeply cynical and cutting take on the Cold War, American Idealism, false stories we tell ourselves about the US, and a solid, good thriller, it’s really great.
So if you don’t know the plot, Raymond Shaw, stepson of a rising political force is capture during the Korean War, brainwashed along with his platoon, by the Russian, Korean, and Chinese intelligence agencies in order to become an asset (assassin). His platoon is returned and they give an implanted, false story about heroism Shaw committed and he wins the Medal of Honor. This is in stark contrast to his general demeanor — cold, angry, and isolated — after a lifetime of various emotional abuse by his mother. The Medal of Honor helps to secure his step-father’s ascension from governor to senator and hopeful as president. The mission that Shaw has been “trained” for remains closely guarded for most of the novel.
The movie really is good, but the novel spends a lot more time delving into the backgrounds of all the characters and really shows their various emotional depths and depravities respectively. The tone here is also much more cynical than the movie.