cover image The Betrayers

The Betrayers

David Bezmozgis. Little, Brown, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-316-28433-2

Bezmozgis’s second novel (after The Free World) is a beautifully written exploration of the role fate can play in the finer distinctions between a heroic life and a villainous one. Baruch Kotler is a Soviet Jewish dissident who, after he is freed from prison, becomes a celebrated Israeli politician. When scandal forces Kotler to flee Israel for the Crimea with his mistress, Leora, a coincidence leads him to the door of Chaim Tankilevich, the man whose testimony led to Kotler’s imprisonment in a Russian jail 39 years ago. With all the makings of a standard revenge tale and told in Bezmogis’s trademark direct prose, the story resists oversimplification. Kotler and Tankilevich, now advanced in years, both suffered after Kotler’s trial, and, though the trial is well behind them, both are now desperate in different ways. As the two men struggle with their past, Kotler contends with the scandal he fled, the family he left behind, and his son, Benzion, who aspires to be a dissident despite his now age-tempered father’s advice against it. Though the action is fixed largely in one location, Bezmozgis’s novel feels vast, its pages heavy with the complicated debts we owe one another, which are impossible to leave behind. [em](Sept.) [/em]