David's Reviews > True Believers

True Believers by Kurt Andersen
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Jul 08, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: arc, fiction, history-politics, literary-fiction, read-in-2012
Read from July 06 to 08, 2012

There's an old saying that goes something to the effect of "if you're not liberal when you're 20 you don't have a heart; if you're not conservative when you're 50 you don't have a brain." While that statement at face value has little to do with Kurt Andersen's third novel, it was something I thought of quite a bit while reading True Believers, as the change of viewpoint over time and realizing how the degree of importance of certain instances in one's past can be interpreted quite differently with the benefits of history and hindsight are two of the more salient themes.

Karen Hollander (once Hollaender, but nobody can spell it right) has had an illustrious law career, bringing her fame and accolades, including a potential Supreme Court justice nomination. However, Karen turns down any consideration, afraid a "mission" from her politically radical youth will finally return to haunt her. Nevertheless, in order to finally clear her chest, she writes a memoir detailing her youth in a Chicago suburb and first year at Radcliffe leading up to the experience she can never quite put behind herself.

The narrative takes place in chapters alternating between the "present day" in 2014 and Karen's childhood, when she created James Bondesque spy missions with her two best friends, Chuck and Alex. Over time, the trio is swept into anti-Vietnam fervor, becoming politically active in a way much later mirrored by Karen's beloved granddaughter, Waverly, as part of the Occupy movement and its fallout.

Andersen's narration as Karen is very witty, but almost a bit too casual - I couldn't entirely buy that someone respected enough to be under consideration for the Supreme Court could write such a glib tell-all. Nevertheless, I found it compulsively readable and marked quite a few pages filled with interesting insight of which to re-visit. The setting is portrayed really well, too. Obviously the '60s are a good few decades before my time, but I fell right into the setting and appreciated the parallels with current political events.

Another interesting theme prevalent throughout is the importance and influence of fiction on actual events. I remember reading an article last year criticizing President Obama after a bookstore visit where-in he bought several novels for not being a 'serious' reader tackling non-fiction, as if the former doesn't often serve equally sufficient a role in observing the world. And indeed, I agree that fiction really does influence us, particularly what we read in youth as the James Bond novels affected Karen, Chuck, and Alex. Later in True Believers, Karen goes so far as to observe that these days we often go to lengths to fictionalize ourselves, from simple exaggeration in stories to sound more interesting to cosmetic surgery to the anonymity the Internet can afford.

These days we experience extreme partisan politics and the constant threat of the end of times, at least according to the media. But, as Karen says, Armageddon and apocalypse have always been just around the corner - as have 'true believers,' those who have dedicated themselves to a main cause and paint everyone else as with them or against and "loathe the moderates in their midst," - it's all a bit "been there, done that."

I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher for review
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Reading Progress

07/06/2012 page 120
27.0% 1 comment
07/07/2012 page 244
54.0% "The narration has been really witty, way moreso than I'd expected. Pretty into this now"

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