Judith's Reviews > The Believers

The Believers by Zoë Heller
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's review
Mar 03, 2010

really liked it

I became interested in this book when I learned that the author also wrote "Notes on a Scandal" which was made into a really good movie a few years back (Cate Blanchett plays a school teacher who has an affair with her student, and is exposed by her supposed friend, Judy Dench). This book did not disappoint. I was captivated from the first page. The story concerns a NYC family who rallies around their father and mother when the father suffers a stroke which essentially puts him in a coma. The dad is a famous left-wing lawyer who represented various causes and infamous characters throughout his long career, and who had been a legendary beacon of moral good for his entire family. But in Heller's book,as in real life, no hero emerges with his reputation completely intact.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book for me was watching how his adult children developed, having been raised by this absolute beacon of goodness, equality and justice. Karla is a hospital social worker with a serious weight problem and a bullying husband. Rosa is a beauty who suddenly becomes fascinated with Orthodox Judaism, having been raised by her parents to be "antitheistic" ( a new word to me). Lenny, the adopted son is constantly struggling with heroin addiction. Audrey, the wife, has got to be the most bitter angry shrew ever to come down the pike in literature. Yet each is portrayed in such vivid detail, I felt that I knew these people. There is not a note of falsity in this book.

And though the book is more about morality than religion, there are some interesting passages about religion, such as the following, where the Rabbi talks with Rosa who is struggling with intellect vs. faith.

"Faith is hard, Rosa. Nonbelievers often speak of faith as it it were something easy, a cop-out from the really tough business of confronting a meaningless universe, but it's not. It's doubt that's easy. The invisibility of Hashem, the fear we sometimes have that he is indifferent to earthly suffering, the explanations that science seems to offer for almost all the phenomena we once considered mysterious---these things make believing an enormous challenge."
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Dagný (new)

Dagný Did you read Notes on a Scandal? Just wondering bc I thought the movie was not as good as the book.
I''ll definitely take your recommendation on this one.

Judith I never read the book but I loved the movie. There is another one on my list by her: "Tribe of Joel" and now I am thinking it must be a sequel or prequel to "The Believers" because Joel is the father's name in that book. I have read so many disappointing books lately that I was beginning to think there was something wrong with me. Then I got this one, and I couldn't put it down. So now I know I was just a victim of bad writing.

message 3: by THE (new)

THE Great review...like reader Dagny, I would recommend you read Notes on a Scandal. There are elements in the book that make it quite different than the fine film, both of which are worthy of praise. Clearly, The Believers is another Heller work of quality. I have added it to my list...thanks!

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