A good book makes you think after having finished it. This book has a lot in a few pages to think about. The moral problems and decisions, even if they are not new, are always present.
In the first several chapters, I found it hard to feel close to the characters or the story. And in the case of Leora, we never get much insight into her personality or her motivation in entering into her affair with Kotler; she remains a mannequin to the end. Nevertheless, the book is an easy read that moves along briskly and gains substance as it progresses. Kotler's confrontation with his former betrayer ends up being less traumatic than expected and the story winds down to a rather placid but probably realistic conclusion. The high point of the book for me was the letter Kotler receives from his wife -- a dignified, thoughtful and moving declaration that succeeds in drawing Kotler -- and indeed the entire plot -- back into a semblance of normalcy.
Bezmozgis, in his terse style and passionate defense of the Zionist point of view, harkens back to the very earliest work of Leon Uris in Mila 18 -- when Uris was still fresh, optimistic and not as pathetically self-absorbed as he eventually became. It's remarkable to encounter a writer who today, despite all that has occurred over the past 60 years, remains as single-minded in his adherence to the Zionist point of view. Once again one is reminded of the sheer intransigence of the conflict of rights, aspirations and ancient wrongs that prevent anything resembling a resolution of the middle east situation. Bezmozgis condemns the forced removal of Jewish settlements seemingly not so much based on their right to exist (which he simply takes for granted as if it were indisputable) but rather on the basis that their removal fails to gain any meaningful concessions from the Palestinians. That viewpoint calls into question whether any such inalienable right exists or if it's simply a bargaining chip in a cold-blooded power game.
Perhaps the book's greatest achievement is its merciless depiction of Kotler, a man who thrives on self-deception, so convinced of his own idealism that in order to deny his political opponent a tactical victory he is willing to subject his loving and loyal wife, son and daughter to public disgrace and flee with his mistress. He despises the aging and helpless Tankilevitch for having betrayed him years ago, even though that betrayal was done under extreme duress applied by an all-powerful Soviet political machine. Surely Kotler's betrayal of his loved ones, an act that was after all driven by his own carnal desires and his monumental stubbornness was a greater betrayal than that of his nemesis. His almost offhand forgiveness of Tankilevitch seems hardly adequate to redeem him for his callousness; and the deep hurt that he has done to his wife cannot be undone. He comes across as a believable character but certainly not a likeable one.
This author was more interesting in having a political and religious discussion than writing a good, compelling story. I felt like I was reading a treatise more that a novel at times.
Can't be read on a Kindle
A literary novel with many themes to talk/discuss/argue about in a book club. Focuses on on one day in the life of the main character who has a baggage packed background. Many Jewish references that made me feel left out. Had a laugh though about how the desires of older men and women differ meaning that that made it OK for his 60 year old married character with a wife of exceptional loyalty to take a mistress. With the age difference, I couldn't see them as a couple myself and I think the author couldn't see it either as he has difficulty describing any intimacy between them beyond making eye contact or the nod of a head to indicate a shared thought. They just hold hands. Interesting idea though - the confrontation of accuser and his victim both now seniors and with different life outcomes, but both past victims of Russian communist State. What happens when they meet?
Very disappointing, especially after "The Free World". An Israeli politician, a former Russian refusnik, flees to Yalta to avoid scandal where he meets the man who betrayed him. Bezmozgis seems to celebrate this man's hawkish position and at one point suggest that a moral sense is inherited!
Sad and spare and sometimes funny in a dry way.
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