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The Betrayers: A Novel Paperback – June 23, 2015
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NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW EDITOR'S CHOICE
"When was the last time you tore through a work of literary fiction at the rate of a Tom Clancy thriller? Personally, when I discover I'm holding a smart novel that's also a page turner, I get punchy. Not only have I spotted a unicorn; we are gamboling down the dale hand in hand. A novel of ideas and an engrossing story?... I consumed David Bezmozgis's third book...in roughly the amount of time the planet of the apes took to dawn at the Cineplex. (You know something special is happening when you plan to knock off for the day once you hit the next chapter break, and then sail past it.) This is a testament not to the simplicity of the work but to the exceptional skill and effort with which its author has constructed the narrative... In The Betrayers, Bezmozgis's prose retains the extreme economy that won Natasha so many admirers, while rising to a whole new level of stylistic distinction... Bezmozgis has developed a daunting feel for structure and craft...It achieves a seamlessness that marks it as the most persuasive political novel in years... Even a novel as short as this has to make thousands of decisions; that Bezmozgis made so many smartly feels like a small miracle. The Betrayers can serve as a master class for fledgling writers, and an inspiration for any reader trying to figure out how novels will be saved."--New York Times Book Review
"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."--The Economist
"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 Wall Street Journal
"[A] remarkable, ebullient, tough-minded novel."--The Boston Globe
"The Betrayers...designates Bezmozgis a literary heir to Philip Roth."--Los Angeles Review of Books
"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."―Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure and Super Sad True Love Story
"The Betrayers presents us with the novel-as-scalpel, a brilliant dissection of lives formed and deformed by tyranny, temptation, and the demands of conscience. Just when we think we've arrived at the heart of the story's moral complexity, Bezmozgis cuts again and lays bare yet another layer. It's harrowing, but also thrilling, to see our nature revealed with such unflinching precision. This outstanding novel not only shows Bezmozgis at the top of his form, but also definitively establishes him as one of the foremost writers of his generation."―Ben Fountain, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and LA Times Book Prize and finalist for the National Book Award for Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
"This unforgettable novel squanders no words in its brilliant, deft depictions of love, of memory, of compassion-and, ultimately, despite its title, of loyalty."―Edith Pearlman, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and finalist for the National Book Award for Binocular Vision
"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."―A. D. Miller, finalist for the Man Booker Award for Snowdrops
"The Betrayers is a moral thriller in the tradition of Bernard Malamud, but the generosity, grace, and wisdom of the writing belong entirely to David Bezmozgis. The magic of fiction is that it makes the reader care deeply about imaginary strangers, and Bezmozgis is a magician."―Aleksandar Hemon
"The Betrayers is a work of high moral seriousness dispatched with a gripping elegance that recalls some of our finest mid-century writers. Bezmozgis's story of fallen saints and redeemed outcasts is, to put it plainly, the work of a great writer."―Joshua Ferris, author of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour and Then We Came to the End
"Philosophical, provocative and nervy-an interior novel that manages to encompass a breadth of issues."―Kirkus (starred review)
"An intensely penetrating, transcendent novel... with characters that are absolutely themselves, their flaws, strengths and desires so tenderly and truthfully imagined as they move through the startling turns of a story that rises out of the deep center of Bezmozgis's fine intelligence. Extraordinary."―Barbara Gowdy, Giller Prize finalist author of The White Bone and The Romantic
"A novel of compulsive dramatic power, The Betrayers feels as urgent as the news, and as eternal as scripture. David Bezmozgis weds precise, perfect craft with a generous moral vision of the heart, and head, in ceaseless conflict."―Charles Foran, prize-winning author of Mordecai: The Life and Times and Planet Lolita
"A beautifully written exploration of the role fate can play in the finer distinctions between a heroic life and a villainous one... Bezmozgis's novel feels vast, its pages heavy with the complicated debts we owe one another, which are impossible to leave behind."―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A masterly treatise on the complexity of blame and forgiveness that successfully articulates the loss of individual freedom one experiences while navigation political, family, and religious structures."―Library Journal (starred review)
"In this taut, vigorous, and fast-flowing tale of an unexpected encounter between two old enemies in Crimea...Bezmozgis' dialogue has the ringing clarity of a play, while his characters' churning thoughts address dilemmas of marriage and family relationships and the hidden predicaments that make judging others such a perilous undertaking. 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."―Booklist (starred review)
"Bezmozgis captures timeless moral questions of betrayal and loyalty in the timely context of Crimean and Israeli history and politics."―Shelf Awareness
"Bezmozgis has given us a complex moral thriller with weighty political implications regarding the continued effects of migration of Soviet Jews to Israel on global politics."―New Republic
"The effects of Bezmozgis' writing, the depth of his characters, is poignant and captivating."―Fiction Writers Review
"Bezmozgis, for the most part, has created an utterly believable and memorable cast of characters whose passions and problems are as timeless as the allure of a Black Sea summer resort."―Associated Press
"Bezmozgis not only presents complex, endearing characters in dramatic situations, but also poses (and attempts to answer) difficult questions about how the individual can affect politics, and how politics in turn affects the individual."―The Believer
"The Betrayers tells such a rich story that it could be an enduring success regardless of the front-page news."―Shelf Awareness for Readers
"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... 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."―Bookpage
"The book has a taut, almost noir-ish style, reminiscent of Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and Philip Roth's The Ghostwriter, climaxing in a confrontation between the two betrayers in which issues of morality and justice are played out in scenes that seem like they could exist on the stage as well as in a book."―The Forward
About the Author
David Bezmozgis is an award-winning writer and filmmaker whose fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, Zoetrope, and Best American Short Stories. He was named one of the New Yorker's "20 Under 40" writers in 2010. He lives in Toronto.
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Top Customer Reviews
The visitors are Baruch Kotler, an Israeli government minister, and his younger mistress Leora. Russian-born Kotler became world-famous as the symbol of Soviet oppression of the Jews, and his eventual release from the Gulag allowed his arrival in Israel as a conquering hero. But now it appears that he and Leora are on the run, his adultery exposed by political opponents uncomfortable with his uncompromising Zionism. He chooses Yalta as his bolt-hole because of happy memories as a child, but cannot find room in a hotel. Some women at the bus station offer rooms to rent. Kotler, guided more or less by instinct, accepts the offer of a woman called Svetlana who, though Christian herself, says that her husband is Jewish.
Kotler does not fully know what impelled him to chose this room, and Svetlana will later call it the hand of God, but we see it as dramatic licence: the one big coincidence we must accept if the play is to work. For Svetlana's husband, Chaim Tankilevich, is the very man who, as a Jew working in secret for the KGB, betrayed Kotler as an activist, and was thus responsible for his show trial and long imprisonment. But his subsequent career has taken the opposite trajectory from that of his former enemy. Reviled by the small group of Jews remaining in the Crimea, he has had to change his name and rely on charity from a Jewish organization whose administrator imposes humiliating conditions as the price for keeping his secret.
The titles of the drama and its separate scenes are chosen with care. Both men are BETRAYERS: Tankilevich obviously so, but Kotler has betrayed his wife and possibly his duty to his prime minister, though not his principles. Both are in SANCTUARY; both in different ways have been held HOSTAGE. The stage is set for their REUNION, which begins as a cold duel of words. Not being Jewish, I may not be adequately tuned to all the implications, and I certainly know that I would be on the opposite side to Kotler politically, since the triggering crisis in Israel concerns the dismantling of some Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. A lot has to do with the nature of being a Jew. It is not simply a matter of personal forgiveness after all this time, but of what that forgiveness would mean politically. The section labeled ASCENT seems for a while to be the very opposite, as everything goes downhill for both couples. Only when we get to the very brief CODA do we realize that, morally, this indeed has been an ascent, and that Bezmozgis has brought us to the final curtain of this serious, thought-provoking drama with skill, moral intelligence, and grace.
The Betrayers is about such a man. Baruch Kotler, a Right-Wing minister in the Israeli cabinet and a hero among the refuseniks who stood up against the anti-Semitism of the USSR, has resigned when the coalition government in which he’s serving has voted to demolish and abandon certain Jewish settlements on Arab land. Kotler takes this step even knowing to a certainty that his enemies will go public with damaging information that could destroy his family.
In The Betrayers, David Bezmozgis follows Kotler and his beautiful young mistress through the Crimea, where they have fled following publication of photos revealing their affair. In Yalta, in a coincidence that is far-fetched beyond belief, Kotler confronts the man whose false accusation sent him to prison in Siberia for 13 years.
The Betrayers is a talky novel, with the principal characters — even the least educated among them — exchanging nuanced philosophical monologues that conjure up images of the stage: bad plays, not good ones. Though I didn’t enjoy reading this book, I did manage to stick with it to the end for the revealing picture it paints of Russia after the fall of Communism and of Israeli politics.
David Bezmozgis is an award-winning novelist, short story-writer, and filmmaker. He is Canadian but was born in Riga, Latvia. The Betrayers is his second novel.
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I enjoyed the illusion to real individuals that came to mind yet we're not revealed.Read more
Compromising actions reflected realistically and sensitively.