The Betrayers

by David Bezmozgis

Book, 2014



Call number




New York, NY Little, Brown and Company, 2014


Escaping his political opponents in a Crimean resort town, disgraced Israeli politician Baruch Kotler runs into a former friend who had him sent to the gulag forty years prior and must reconcile with his betrayer and his own poor choices.

User reviews

LibraryThing member gayla.bassham
Lovely prose, spare to a fault. I liked the ideas here, and thought Kotler was a great, complicated character. I wish this book had been longer, though, and fleshed out the relationships and themes it only hinted at. In particular, I would like for Bezmozgis to do more with the women--Leora,
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Miriam, Svetlana--who all seemed a bit one-note.
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LibraryThing member Romonko
This very surprising little book covers one day in the life of Baruch Kotler. By the time we meet him he is sixty years old and a disgraced Israeli politician. But before his public disgrace, he was a much-admired and much-loved Jewish martyr. Baruch spent 13 years of his young life incarcerated in
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a brutish Russian prison. Baruch had been very recently married when he was arrested, and he and his young wife were emigrating to Israel when he was picked up by the Russian police. His wife went on ahead without him, but held out hope and did much campaigning to see Baruch freed. Without compromising his principles, and without pleading guilty to being a radical Jew, he managed to be freed and then he went to Israel to be with his wife and to raise his family. He becomes a hero to the Israeli people, and is a politician in the Israeli government, when he suddenly gives it all up to run away from Israel to Yalta in the Crimea with his young mistress. The book time frame starts when he and Leora arrive in Yalta, and then continues for the next 24 hours. In that short time Baruch is forced by a very strange coincidence, to face the person who had denounced him to the KGB 40 years before. He must learn to reconcile the choices he has made because of his incarceration. He must face the devastation that he has brought to his family, and he must learn to accept and live with the choices he has made, as well as to reconsider his position as to where he goes from here. A lot happens within these 24 hours and I think the most amazing thing is that David Bezmozgis says it all so clearly and so succinctly in what is actually very few well-chosen words. The book is only 200 pages long. Oh to be able to write like this! Mr. Bezmozgis' prose is spare, elegant, descriptive and concise. This book is a well-deserved 2014 Giller Prize Shortlisted novel.
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LibraryThing member jolerie
This is the primary insight I have gleaned from life: The moral component is no different from the physical component - a man's soul, a man's conscience, is like his height or the shape of his nose. We are all born with inherent propensities and limits. You can no more be reviled for your character
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than for your height. No more reviled than revered. Pg. 171

In the span of one day, Baruch Kotler, a Soviet Jewish citizen goes from being a cultural hero and icon to a man exposed and disgraced for his extramarital activities. Now with his mistress by his side he journeys to Russia in search for some peace, but inadvertedly comes face to face with the man who betrayed him to KGB all the years ago, resulting in his imprisonment and loss of freedom.

Usually when I finish a book or even before I finish it, I already know what kind of rating I would give it, but with The Betrayers I struggled with the rating. For a relatively small book, at less than 250 pages, heavy philosophy subjects such as forgiveness, compassion, love and loss of a homeland are all explored. Kotler is a complicated man if there ever was one. A man who prides himself on principles and integrity is filled with contradictions as the story progresses. A man unwilling to compromise his beliefs is willing to throw away his marriage and family for a younger woman seems so unbelievable and pointless. In the end perhaps it just illuminates how flawed human nature truly is. No one can be completely black or grey but we all exist in various shades of grey, and Kotler is a shining example of this truth. For all the ways that the book made me uncomfortable and question the status quo, I feel like I should have given [The Betrayers] a much higher rating. The only thing holding me back is my lack of knowledge concerning the historical context regarding the struggle of Israel as a state and the Zionist movement, which inhibited me from fully immersing myself in the whole story. For anyone who has an interest in that subject matter, I would recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member icolford
The set-up for the main action in David Bezmozgis’s second novel (and Giller Prize finalist), The Betrayers, takes only a few pages. Baruch Kotler, a minister in the Israeli government, and his young mistress Leora have left Israel for Ukraine, fleeing the scandal and resulting media frenzy that
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their exposed romance has unleashed. Kotler, born in the Soviet Union, a Jew who was initially denied permission to emigrate to Israel and instead jailed as a spy for the Americans, and whose eventual release and move to Israel made him a national hero, has made the curious decision to return to the land of his birth out of “nostalgia.” In Yalta, when they discover that the hotel has no record of their booking, Kotler makes a further curious decision: to return to the bus station and seek alternative accommodations from one of the locals who make a practice of meeting newly arrived tourists with a sign advertising rooms to let. They go with middle-aged Svetlana, another decision, made purely at random, that proves fateful because of the unresolved antagonism that, as it turns out, exists between Kotler and Svetlana’s husband, Vladimir, antagonism rooted in actions of fifty years earlier: the distant, tragic, but never to be forgotten past. From this compelling premise, Bezmozgis weaves a spellbinding tale in which past and present collide, in the process generating great narrative tension and a dizzying moral conundrum for Kotler, not to mention immense anguish and distress for all the main players. It would be unfair to give away more of the plot than that. Bezmozgis, whose unadorned prose in this book recalls the measured, old-world cadences of Jewish novelists like Bernard Malamud and Saul Bellow, draws a vivid if dispiriting portrait of present-day Ukraine, where infrastructure is in shambles and impoverished citizens compete with one another for government handouts and elusive tourist dollars. It will be difficult, however, for readers to shrug off the coincidence that sets the story into motion. Bezmozgis makes no attempt to cloak or apologize for the plot device that brings Kotler into uncomfortable proximity with a past that he is then forced to reassess. The reader must make of it what he/she will.
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LibraryThing member Rdra1962
Without writing a summary, I would highly recommend this book for book clubs and/or people who like to have philosophical discussions. The book raises many "what would you do" questions that could easily lead to very interesting debates. Topical and thought provoking!
LibraryThing member copyedit52
While fashioning a "moral thriller," according to a cover blurb for Betrayers, the author gives us a struggling protagonist whose stand in favor of settlements in Israeli-occupied territory--stolen land---we're supposed to admire. But how can an open-minded reader, aware of the continuing tragedy
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of the displaced and all but imprisoned Palestinian people, admire the book's putatively heroic main character? The author's earlier work, The Free World, which I liked, brought me to Betrayers. Now, Bezmozgis's moral confusion disqualifies him as a writer to be taken seriously.
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LibraryThing member asxz
Shortish novel brimming with interesting ideas about fate, faith and fidelity. This was much more about contemporary Israeli politics than I had anticipated having read a collection of Bezmozgis's short stories a decade ago and nothing since. Neat, rather than breathtaking.

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