Sun Tzu's Café

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
376 Pages
Reviewed on 03/28/2024
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Author Biography

I am a biochemist, dentist, and photobiologist. I have patented technologies in the areas of lasers, circadian medicine, and biofilm eradication, and am widely published in peer-reviewed journals such as Current Trends in Microbiology and Compendium. I have been writing and delivering Medical C.E. courses on the topics of Marijuana and Hallucinogens for the last six years. As a long-time fan of Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, and Dan Brown's work, I decided to write a Historical/Medical/Thriller, reminding the American public about the CIA's infamous MK-ULTRA program. I chose the Chinese angle, as the United States is now in a new Cold War with China, and America's existential battle with China is in the news daily and foremost in the public consciousness. If this book does well, I am planning sequels that expand on some of the same characters and themes as Sun Tzu's Café.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

Sun Tzu’s Café by Eric Bornstein is a political thriller that will keep readers glued to their seats. The experiments conducted by the U.S. during the Cold War using hallucinogenic drugs to interrogate prisoners and extract information have been turned around on them. The Chinese Communist Party has infiltrated the major universities and technical institutes of the US with a series of coffee shops that serve students more than just your average brew. Partnering with a disaffected CIA agent, the Chinese government is pouring THC compounds and hallucinogenic drugs into the coffee of the best and the brightest at universities across the United States, allowing trained baristas to easily extract information and technical knowledge from these students. Difficulties arise, however, when a small proportion of the students have a bad reaction to the drug cocktails and undergo serious psychotic episodes. When a Vermont doctor begins looking into these psychotic episodes, it is clear that the scheme is under threat and the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) will do whatever it takes to keep this channel of vital technical information open. The scene is set for thrilling action and subterfuge.

Sun Tzu’s Café is a wonderful read. It has all the elements required for a tense political intrigue that is easily imaginable in today’s fractured international environment. Author Eric Bornstein has researched this topic and the history of the CIA extensively to come up with a scenario that is realistic and not at all far-fetched. A fiction author achieves his objectives when the reader starts questioning if the story is made-up, or possibly could be true. Such is the case with this story; the author’s references to current events and real people and entities give the entire story a ring of truth. I found myself constantly questioning; could this happen? Did this happen? So, kudos to the author for this clever and innovative plot. The story is related from different perspectives which gives it a depth and breadth it might otherwise have lacked. I particularly enjoyed and appreciated the character of the disaffected CIA agent and his mission to make America pay for its treatment of the early Chinese immigrants to the US and that stopping immigration at the end of the nineteenth century directly caused the deaths of thousands of Chinese, including members of his own family. As someone who appreciates the philosophies of Sun Tzu, it was wonderful to read a modern-day adventure that celebrates the teachings of this wonderful philosopher. This is an easy-to-read, fun thriller that will engage readers on many levels and I can highly recommend it.

Keith Mbuya

Having recently graduated and at just twenty-one in 1942, Li Qiang had been forced to join the U.S. Navy, and shortly after was conscripted into the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), where he was forced to help the CIA conduct mind control experiments on foreign and American citizens. After twenty-five years of constant threats from his seniors, designed to “keep him in line” and continue working on the inhumane experiments, Qiang finally finds a way out of the ONI and CIA. Qiang fakes his own death and disappears while on an assignment in war-torn Vietnam. All along, Qiang harbored hate and resentment toward the US government for atrocities on the Chinese people decades ago, and what they had done to him at ONI. Qiang plans to take revenge on the US. Dr. Guilford Champlain has noticed strange behavioral tendencies and medical records among campus students that point him back to illegal human experiments he conducted for the CIA in the 1960s, except that it is 2023. Is America ready for what is coming its way? Find out in Eric Bornstein’s Sun Tzu’s Café.

Running the story on a double timeline, Eric weaves an intriguing plot, featuring an interesting cast. The vivid depictions uniquely captured the mood and setting of the scenes, taking me back in time to mid-twentieth century America. Coupled with accurate references to historical and political events in the US, reading this book felt like watching a spy documentary. Eric paints a clear, richly nuanced image of what it was like being an operative for the US in the mid-1900s. In a bid to maintain its superpower status, America went out of its way to cause fear and agony not only to foreigners but its own people. And while this gave them the desired results, it saw them leaving behind a trail of vengeful and dangerously determined people all over the world. Eric brings out the cast’s traits and emotions very well, making it easy to connect and empathize with them. Fans of spy thrillers will find Eric Bornstein’s Sun Tzu’s Café an enthralling read.

K.C. Finn

Sun Tzu's Café is a work of fiction in the historical, thriller, and espionage subgenres. It is best suited to the general adult reading audience and contains some scenes of wartime violence. Penned by author Eric Bornstein, readers are invited to enjoy a chilling tale set in an era of legalized marijuana, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plots to exploit America's brightest graduate students using synthetic hallucinogens and THC compounds. Partnering with a disaffected CIA agent well-versed in Sun Tzu's strategies, the CCP plans to extract crucial technical information from university laboratories through suggestive interrogation at upscale American cafes. Mirroring Cold War-era MKULTRA protocols, the CCP aims to gain an edge in security and technology. However, complications arise as the drugs induce unexpected side effects in some students, prompting an E.R. doctor in Vermont to investigate.

Author Eric Bornstein has masterfully crafted a narrative that keeps you on the edge of your seat, drawing you into a world where the lines between reality and manipulation blur. The juxtaposition of ancient Chinese military strategy with modern-day espionage tactics is something truly unique that I’ve not encountered in a story before, making it both intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging. As the plot unfolds, the stakes escalate, and the characters grapple with moral dilemmas and personal demons that are well-realized through some really compelling speech and thought presentation. The atmosphere is well-penned with detailed and descriptive lexis, offering a riveting experience that seamlessly blends elements of espionage, political intrigue, and psychological thriller into its vivid settings. Overall, I would certainly recommend Sun Tzu's Café as a thought-provoking and suspenseful read for thriller fans that leaves a lasting impression.

Asher Syed

In Sun Tzu's Café by Eric Bornstein, Haitao coordinates Project JAVA-WAR for the MSS, exploiting cafés near US universities for intelligence gathering, while Lieutenant Qiang reluctantly oversees Project CHATTER's truth serum program in D.C. As Lieutenant Commander Qiang participates in LSD experiments for the Navy, MSS agents begin manipulating students at Sun Tzu Café for intel, while complying with CIA projects involving LSD under pressure from Undersecretary Rockefeller. Meanwhile, Dr. Asher Berenson identifies a dangerous substance on campus, and Commander Li Qiang manipulates Dr. Guilford Champlain for MKULTRA experiments. Spanning years and crossing the globe against a backdrop of geopolitical implications and personal vendettas, a death is faked with a resurfacing in Manila with a plan for revenge against the US. Meanwhile, Asher and Champlain's investigations on the effects of psychoactive substances unknowingly put them into a dangerous game of espionage and retaliation orchestrated by the CCP and its operatives, with deadly consequences.

Of course, an operation that takes place involving coffee by a Sun Tzu superfan is going to be called JAVA-WAR, and Sun Tzu's Café by Eric Bornstein has all the buzz of a frappé wrapped up in frothy fiction. There were a few things that I really loved, but at the top of them all was the action. There's a lot of science, but there are also assassins who hunt targets down in the snow, cafés going boom, and Pink Floyd references. If you have a plot involving LSD and don't invoke a psychedelic group, can you even call it a real story? Another thing that I appreciated is the tightness of Bornstein's story and its writing style. It's clean and straightforward, and Bornstein takes real-life trigger points, like the 2016 US Presidential election and what was “supposed” to happen, and uses them as a harness to attach a wagon full of legitimate issues to his plot's shooting star. The novel is timely given the current political climate, particularly as it relates to freedom of speech, information, and the God-given right to have your dance moves go viral on social media. Just be aware that if you type in a couple of drug ingredients in a Google search, you could end up on a Chinese hit list. Bornstein has a solid thriller that dips its stir stick in several genres, and I look forward to seeing what he puts out next. Very highly recommended.