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The Betrayers
by David Bezmozgis


Overview - Winner of the "National Jewish Book Award"
A Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2014
A New Yorker Favorite Book of 2014
New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
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.
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More About The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis
 
 
 
Overview
Winner of the "National Jewish Book Award"
A Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2014
A New Yorker Favorite Book of 2014
New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice
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 encounters 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 at 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.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780316284332
  • ISBN-10: 0316284335
  • Publisher: Little Brown and Company
  • Publish Date: September 2014
  • Page Count: 240
  • Dimensions: 9.2 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.95 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Literary
Books > Fiction > Historical - General
Books > Fiction > Jewish

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2014-07-21
  • Reviewer: Staff

Bezmozgis’s second novel (after The Free World) is a beautifully written exploration of the role fate can play in the finer distinctions between a heroic life and a villainous one. Baruch Kotler is a Soviet Jewish dissident who, after he is freed from prison, becomes a celebrated Israeli politician. When scandal forces Kotler to flee Israel for the Crimea with his mistress, Leora, a coincidence leads him to the door of Chaim Tankilevich, the man whose testimony led to Kotler’s imprisonment in a Russian jail 39 years ago. With all the makings of a standard revenge tale and told in Bezmogis’s trademark direct prose, the story resists oversimplification. Kotler and Tankilevich, now advanced in years, both suffered after Kotler’s trial, and, though the trial is well behind them, both are now desperate in different ways. As the two men struggle with their past, Kotler contends with the scandal he fled, the family he left behind, and his son, Benzion, who aspires to be a dissident despite his now age-tempered father’s advice against it. 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. (Sept.)

 
BookPage Reviews

Emotions run high in a Crimean resort

Anyone who thinks the compact novel of ideas is dead would do well to turn to Canadian writer David Bezmozgis’ second novel, The Betrayers. In scarcely more than 200 pages, this tension-packed story explores themes of betrayal, forgiveness, moral courage and its opposite that are both contemporary and timeless.

The action takes place in the present day, over a period of 24 hours, in the Crimean resort town of Yalta. Baruch Kotler, an Israeli politician, has fled there with his aide and lover Leora after their affair is exposed by his political opponents. But what’s more intriguing than his current embarrassment is his encounter with Chaim Tankilevich, a former friend whose denunciation some four decades earlier had condemned Kotler, a Soviet Jewish dissident, to 13 years in the Gulag. The aged and ailing Tankilevich has enacted a sort of penance for that act in the form of the painful three-hour bus ride he takes each Saturday to attend the slowly dying Jewish Sabbath service in the town of Simferopol.

In a series of emotionally fraught conversations, Bezmozgis skillfully manipulates the tension between the two men and Tankilevich’s wife, Svetlana, embittered by the straitened circumstances in which she and her husband live as a result of his long-ago treachery. Tankilevich offers a plausible, if self-serving, justification for that choice, while Kotler coolly withholds the absolution the couple desperately demands. “I gave, but I was forced,” Tankilevich responds to Kotler’s condemnation. “Everyone was forced. Some nevertheless managed to resist,” replies his former friend. Kotler’s apparent perch atop the moral high ground is compromised by his own infidelity and his response to his son’s conscience-stricken refusal to obey IDF officers’ orders to eject Israeli settlers from their homes.

Bezmozgis refuses to pass judgment on these characters, almost daring us to do so. There are no saints, and perhaps no sinners, in the bleak world he so meticulously creates, only flawed human beings struggling to navigate a moral universe painted here in shades of gray.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
BAM Customer Reviews