Friday, December 26, 2014

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NY1 teams with contributors from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Slate.com and Essence Magazine to review the latest books and book-related trends.

The Book Reader: ‘The Betrayers’

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Bari Weiss of the Wall Street Journal reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."

I have read several wonderful novels this year, but the only one that kept me up all night was a book called "The Betrayers" by David Bezmozgis.

The heart of this sparkling, fable-like novel is a magnetic character named Baruch Kotler. Kotler is a former refusnik - a Soviet Jew denied permission to immigrate to Israel - who was imprisoned after a show trial found him guilty of treason. After 13 years in Soviet jail, he is finally released and receives a hero’s welcome in Israel where he forms a right-wing political party. He is pugnacious and relentless - a “famously stubborn” man in a "notoriously obstinate country.”

For readers with any knowledge of Soviet or Jewish history, Kotler will immediately call to mind the famous Soviet dissident-turned-Israeli politician Natan Sharansky, whose basic biography matches up pretty perfectly with Kotler's. But rest assured, “The Betrayers” is fiction. In Mr. Bezmozgis’s book, Israel is unilaterally pulling out of the West Bank settlements. The right-wing Kotler is staunchly opposed to the unilateral pullout, and when he voices his opposition, his political enemies leak photos of him exposing his affair with a staffer named Leora.

To escape the scandal, the pair absconds to Crimea, of all places, where Kotler spent summers as a child.

And that’s when things start to really heat up. It is in Yalta through a highly unlikely chain of events that Leora and Kotler end up renting a room by the sea owned by the very man who ratted out Kotler to the KGB. Decades later, the fates of the two men have reversed. The informant lives hand to mouth with his pensioner wife, surviving mostly of a subsidy from a Jewish charity. Kotler, meanwhile, is a respected, famous figure in Israel and beyond.

The confrontation that ensues between the two men over the course of two days is a kind of morality play about loyalty, nationalism, politics, love, and, yes, betrayal.

If someone has not bought the rights to this book to make a film, or, better yet, a play, here is your tip. More important, I realize a book about a Jewish dissident in Crimea does not exactly scream “Christmas,” but for those of you still looking for a fantastic book for an enthusiastic reader on your list, you will not go wrong with “The Betrayers.”

For more books and ideas, visit WSJ.com here.

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