Summary and book reviews of The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis

The Betrayers

by David Bezmozgis

The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis X
The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2014, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2015, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan

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About this Book

Book Summary

A compact saga of love, duty, family, and sacrifice from a rising star whose fiction is "self-assured, elegant, perceptive . . . and unflinchingly honest" (New York Times)

These incandescent pages give us one fraught, momentous day in the life of Baruch Kotler, a Soviet Jewish dissident who now finds himself a disgraced Israeli politician. When he refuses to back down from a contrary but principled stand regarding the settlements in the West Bank, his political opponents expose his affair with a mistress decades his junior, and the besieged couple escapes to Yalta, the faded Crimean resort of Kotler's youth. There, shockingly, Kotler comes face-to-face with the former friend whose denunciation sent him to the Gulag almost forty years earlier.

In a whirling twenty-four hours, Kotler must face the ultimate reckoning, both with those who have betrayed him and with those whom he has betrayed, including a teenage daughter, a son facing his own moral dilemma in the Israeli army, and the wife who once campaigned to secure his freedom and stood by him through so much.

Stubborn, wry, and self-knowing, Baruch Kotler is one of the great creations of contemporary fiction. An aging man grasping for a final passion, he is drawn inexorably into a crucible that is both personal and biblical in scope.

In prose that is elegant, sly, precise, and devastating in its awareness of the human heart, David Bezmozgis has rendered a story for the ages, an inquest into the nature of fate and consequence, love and forgiveness. The Betrayers is a high-wire act, a powerful tale of morality and sacrifice that will haunt readers long after they turn the final page.

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A thousand kilometers away, while the next great drama of his life was unfolding and God was banging His gavel to shake the Judean hills, Baruch Kotler sat in the lobby of a Yalta hotel and watched his young mistress berate the hotel clerk—a pretty blond girl who endured the assault with a stiff, mulish expression. A particularly Russian sort of expression, Kotler thought. The morose, disdainful expression with which the Russians had greeted their various invaders. An expression that denoted an irrational, mortal refusal to capitulate—the pride and bane of the Russian people. That Leora persisted in arguing with the girl proved that she was the product of another culture. In Israel, notoriously obstinate country, argument could be sport, sometimes engaged in for its own sake, sometimes to accomplish something. But this Levantine penchant for argument was of no use in a Crimean hotel at high season. Much had changed, Kotler observed—the very existence of this modern...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Bezmozgis instills, within the story, swift strokes of suggestion in the perfect embodiment of "show, don't tell." With his clear, straightforward style, Kotler becomes an intellectual with a sharp mind and tongue to match; someone who knows his strengths and weaknesses, but is still curious and daring enough to constantly test boundaries. Matching this against Tankilevich's self-righteousness, anger and long-standing guilt, Bezmozgis brings us to a powerfully dramatic climax with prose that bursts through the pages and sparkles like firecrackers.   (Reviewed by Davida Chazan).

Full Review (813 words).

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Media Reviews

Huffington Post
The Betrayers turns a mirror on readers' own moral choices through a compelling and piercing exploration of guilt and self-justification.

The Wall Street Journal
Mr. Bezmozgis accomplishes the higher task of understanding and humanizing his characters creeds. A reminder that good fiction aspires not to be timely but timeless, The Betrayers illuminates old, stubborn arguments that usually inspire only heat and noise.

The Economist
A lesser writer may have wilted under the expectation that attended this work. But Mr. Bezmozgis's deft plotting, atmospheric scene-setting and limpid style remain assured. Each page is a gem, its prose carefully weighed and polished.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Though the action is fixed largely in one location, Bezmozgis's novel feels vast, its pages heavy with the complicated debts we owe one another, which are impossible to leave behind.

Booklist
Starred Review. Nearly everyone is a betrayer in some way in Bezmozgis' wise, transfixing, and annealing novel of humor and pathos in which today's personal and political paradoxes embody the archetypal conflicts of humankind.

Library Journal
Starred Review. A masterly treatise on the complexity of blame and forgiveness that successfully articulates the loss of individual freedom one experiences while navigating political, family, and religious structures.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Philosophical, provocative and nervy - an interior novel that manages to encompass a breadth of issues.

Author Blurb A. D. Miller, finalist for the Man Booker Award for Snowdrops
In this taut, fierce, forensically insightful novel, David Bezmozgis explores the frictions between goodness and kindness, public and private virtue, forgiveness and forgetting. Compulsive and profound.

Author Blurb Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure and Super Sad True Love Story
Now that Philip Roth has finished his life's work, let us turn our attention to David Bezmozgis. His bravery and style are off the charts and The Betrayers is his finest, slyest, most robust work yet.

Author Blurb Edith Pearlman, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and finalist for the National Book Award for Binocular Vision
This unforgettable novel squanders no words in its brilliant, deft depictions of love, of memory, of compassion-and, ultimately, despite its title, of loyalty.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Quilting a Fictional Character from Real People

Natan SharanskyAny Jew or Israeli reading this book will recognize much of the famous Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky in Baruch Kotler. This was apparently Bezmozgis' intention, and he drew on Sharansky's extremely vocal and high profile opposition to Israel's 2005 unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip, including his resignation from the Knesset (the legislative branch of the Israeli government.)

Natan Sharansky's wife, Avital, slipped into virtual public oblivion not long after the birth of their first daughter (they have two girls). While fighting for her husband's freedom, she found religion and today practices Orthodox Judaism, but Natan remained secular, viewing his being Jewish as more of a belonging to a nation than to a religion. Unlike ...

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