Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis

This review is a pretty exciting thing for me - its my first library book! I have been volunteering at the library for the past month, and I plan on starting to use it more. There are an awful lot of books that I want to read, and definitely not enough room in my apartment - so library books will be very helpful! I am hoping to bring you a library review at least once a month. Enjoy!

I am not sure where to start with my mid book review of David Bezmozgis’ The Betrayers. It’s a fairly small book – only 225 pages, so it didn’t take me very long to reach the mid-way point. It’s also possible that I read it so quickly because I am not completely sure that I understood it - there are a lot of politics in this book! The book starts off with an elderly man and his quite-a-bit younger companion attempting to get a room in a Crimean Hotel. Baruch Kotler is a soviet Russian dissident and a disgraced Israeli politician on the lamb with his mistress Leora, one of his staffers. They are not able to get a room, so end up taking a room in the house of a Russian woman and her Jewish husband.  There is much made of the fact that the woman’s husband is Jewish; Kotler taking it as a sign of something and his companion, Leora reluctantly and wearily giving in.

I am enjoying the story so far, even though I am definitely not following all of the politics. I have tried doing a little research, but I am not even completely sure what I am looking for. The story seems to revolve around the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as well as Russian Zionism.  Kotler is a Jewish cabinet minister who has been publicly opposing the prime minister and a Zionist hero who, years earlier, spent 13 years in jail for treason after being denounced by a KGB plant. His current predicament has come about as a result of the opposition of the current government – news of his affair has been splashed all over the papers, leading to his desertion of this wife, son and daughter.

The story gets interesting when the owner of the house that Kotler and Leora are staying at turns out to be the man who decades earlier betrayed him to the KGB. Vladimir Tankilevich is a sad, bitter old man for whom life has not turned out well. And now believes that Kotler has come to gloat about his success, while Kotler believes that he has arrived at Tankilevich’s house by divine providence.

And that brings us to the middle. While I am finding the story interesting, I really think I would be getting more out of it if I knew more about Israeli politics or Russian Zionism. As it is, I don’t know much so the political part of this story has really just been in the background for me. I do think it is a little cliché that the old man has run off with his beautiful young secretary, although Bezmozgis makes a comment on this as well – about all the old men running around with young women nowadays. The thing that I don’t understand is why Kotler has decided to run off with Leora in the first place. He doesn’t seem like the type of man to back away from a fight, which he says himself before the news ‘goes viral’. “… I will be as clear as I can. I spent thirteen years in Soviet jails and camps fighting for my right to come to Israel. If you or the people you represent think that I can be intimidated by this sort of KGB thuggery you are mistaken.”  So why has he run away? I get that it needs to happen to further the story, but I will need a little more than that. The history is definitely interesting however, and I am enjoying learning about a culture that I have not been much exposed to. 

I believe the old adage goes “don’t meet your hero, they’ll only disappoint”; this story turns that around to don’t meet your betrayer. As we all know, people are never what we think they are, and you never know what is going on on the inside.

I’m not sure that the bad guys are who we think they are in this story – there is a lot that we don’t know yet, and I am interested in learning more about Tankilevich’s history. He claims to be a devout Zionist, but then why was he working for the KBG so many years ago? It certainly hasn’t turned out in his favour, and he doesn’t seem to have profited from it at all. I know that this is Kotler’s story, but honestly, I am not terribly interested in him. He may have been a hero, but at the end of the day, he is a cheater who has deserted his family. I think that Tankilevich is the real reason to read this book – and the reason that I will keep reading.

I couldn't really think of a tea that reminds me of this book, however, I was drinking a pretty good winter tea from Davids - Organic Vanilla Chai. Its delicious and sweet and vanilla-y, perfect for a cold winters day of books and blogs

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