The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis

516Hazw+tWL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Fiction — print. Little, Brown and Company, 2014. 227 pgs. Library copy.

Over a twenty-four period, Baruch Kotler watches his affair become front page news of every newspaper in Israel after he refuses to change his stance on the West Bank settlements, flies to the Crimea with his young mistress Leora, and confronts Tankilevich, the man who denounced him to the KGB as a Zionist interloper almost forty years ago. Not only does Kotler have to confront the man who betrayed him in the course of a single man, he must also confront his own betrayals of those he loves — his wife, his daughter, his son, and his cause.

“If you give the world a love story, it is like a first installment. Where the next installment is a hate story. Of which the world will accept an infinite number.” (pg. 149)

This nuanced novel requires the reader to have an understanding of Israeli politics as politics and policies of the country are never fully explained and to fall in line with the belief that the Crimea is a part of Russia. Certainly a controversial assertion given recent events, but one that Bezmozgis is not interested in exploring despite the novel’s examination of the shades of gray in life.

Unfortunately, the way Bezmozgis skims over these topics, particularly Zionism in Soviet Russia, keeps his characters distant and their reactions shallow. He might not have felt prepared or compelled to take on these complex topics in such a short book as this, but such distance undermines the morality Bezmozgis is trying to explore.

“Who is the real victim? Who is the real perpetrator? Who gets to sit in judgment? Who? Everyone. And only a child or a simpleton bemoans it. To sit in judgment without all the facts? Who ever sat in judgment with all the facts? Facts were imposed by those who had the power to impose them.” (pg. 127)

Certainly there are intriguing questions phrased by Bezmozgis in a lovely way, including the ones above, but such questions as posed and confronted by the characters are easy to examine without emotion because the characters themselves rarely show emotion outside of a few broken plates and the reaction of a largely unknown secondary character. The whole novel seems stunted, incomplete, and boxed in by the twenty-four hour window of the narrative.

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