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The Betrayers

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  1,940 ratings  ·  314 reviews
Finalist for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize

A disgraced Israeli politician comes face to face with the man who denounced him to the KGB and sent him to the Gulag

These incandescent pages give us one momentous day in the life of Baruch Kotler, a disgraced Israeli politician. When he refuses to back down from a contrary but principled stand regarding the West Bank settlement
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published August 26th 2014 by HarperCollins Publishers
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3.51  · 
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 ·  1,940 ratings  ·  314 reviews

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Elyse Walters
May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was terrific!!!

The themes about morals: Is being moral always right? -- allows for much introspective thinking on the readers part.

Baruch Kotler, a 60 year old, Soviet Jewish Hero took a stand against the destruction of the West Bank settlements and refused to be blackmailed. A smear campaign became front-page news. The media had a field day --taking photographs of Baruch with a young mistress named Leora. His wife was named Miriam. They had two adult children. His daughter
May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First, I am very grateful to the Goodreads FirstReads program and to Little Brown for enabling me to be an advance reader.

My review begins after the close of the book. In his epilogue, David Bezmozgis discusses the difference between journalism and fiction writing. He has this to say: “Journalism is reportage, and therefore retrospective. The novelist who tackles social and political phenomena has quite a different position. He must posit a world and commit to it fully. He cannot merely describ
The Betrayers is an interesting novel - full of political themes and characters with strong political beliefs, but one that doesn't take a definite stance on these issues; they're what define the characters in the book, but the book itself does not judge them or favor one over another. Although politics play an important role in the plot, the drama is, as always when examined up close, entirely human.

Baruch Kotler is a 64 year old influential Israeli politician, and a legendary Soviet dissident
Dec 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Finished the audiobook in 3 days. Loved it.
Full disclosure: my family had emigrated from the USSR in the 70s and 80s. More than that: Natan Sharansky, on whom the main character was based, has been a hero of mine. And the "bad guy" protagonist had been an acquaintance of my father and my grandparents, and I may have even seen him in their home, where many refuseniks and activists of that time had been welcome. So my interest in this story was more that only literary.
Of course, I was intrigued b
Julie Ehlers
At last, my streak of lackluster fiction experiences has been broken. The Betrayers is everything I could possibly want in a novel: fast-paced and well-plotted, with great characters; smart and funny and poignant and entertaining. It also taught me a few things about a part of the world I know little about. I don't feel that I can say much more without giving things away, but this is a truly unique, well-written novel that I would recommend to just about anyone.

A few reviewers have mentioned thi
Ayelet Waldman
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me a dozen starts to get into it, but when I finally did, I enjoyed it.
Jan Rice
Oct 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Okay, so there was this former refusenik who had been the victim of an informant and was sent to the Gulag, where he steadfastly refused to save himself by informing on others. He had endured and, upon release, had become an Israeli hero and politician. But now he's fallen on hard times, become involved in a political scandal, and has fled to Crimea with his young paramour.

The two are hoping to transmute the scandal into a hot seaside interlude in Yalta. Until, believe it or not, they run acros
There were times when this book reminded me of Dostoevsky, or maybe even Tolstoy, in the philosophical back and forth of the dialogues and much melodramatic discussion about "absolution" and "repentence". No accident, as this short novel takes place in Russia, and the influence of that country's literature is certainly not one to be hidden. I smiled occasionally at the familiar idioms you find in modern (more literal, I guess) translations of Russian works, like 'Go to the devil!" and so on.

I di
Mal Warwick
I wouldn’t be a very good revolutionary. I’ve always had trouble with moral absolutists — the sort of stiff-necked people who will never budge from their views even when the consequences for others around them will be dire.

The Betrayers is about such a man. Baruch Kotler, a Right-Wing minister in the Israeli cabinet and a hero among the refuseniks who stood up against the anti-Semitism of the USSR, has resigned when the coalition government in which he’s serving has voted to demolish and abandon
My review (which includes spoilers) appears in New York Journal of Books. Read that review first. An addendum to my NYJB review appeared in an article in a different and now defunct publication, which includes additional remarks, excerpts, and explores the novel as a roman a clef, begins with the next paragraph.

Jewish books: David Bezmozgis' roman a clef second novel The Betrayers succeeds

Encyclopaedia Britannica defines "roman à clef, ( French: 'novel with a key')" as a "novel that has the extr
Oct 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: can-con, 2014
Any review of The Betrayers should begin by noting that it can't help but be full of spoilers -- if you want a satisfying experience of having small mysteries slowly revealed, you shouldn't read any reviews before you pick up this book. At barely more than 200 sparse pages, there are no unnecessary words here and it really can't be discussed in general terms.

As we begin, Baruch Kotler -- a 60-year-old Zionist hero and Cabinet Member in Israel's Knesset -- and his decades younger mistress, Leora
Nov 12, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
Midpoint review originally posted at

This is a fairly small book - only 225 pages, so it didn’t take me very long to finish, however it’s also possible that I read it so quickly because I am not completely sure that I understood it - there are a lot of politics in this book! The book starts off with an elderly man and his quite-a-bit younger companion attempting to get a room in a Crimean Hotel. Baruch Kotler is a soviet Russian dissident and a disgraced Israeli politi
Shirley Schwartz
What does trust and honour really mean? 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 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 ...more
David Gurevich
I seem to be in a minority about this book. Bezmozglis spins a good yarn, just as he did in The Free World. He has heart and he has brains and a wistful Malamudian sense of humor. The story of a victim who travels hundreds of miles and just happens to rent a room from a man who betrayed him 30 or so years ago does strain belief, but I didn’t mind; I’m a sucker for coincidence. Nor was I bothered by the story’s easy predictability - we can’t all do trick endings. What I found much harder to swall ...more
Elsie Klumpner
This is an excellent book. I look forward to reading more of his work. It's a story what takes place in 24 hours. A former Soviet dissident and now a disgraced Israeli politician (do they really get THAT upset about a politician's infidelity in Israel?) is on the run with his mistress. They head for Yalta for a secret vacation. Unknowingly he is confronted by someone of great importance from his past. He and this person have to deal with their rediscovery of each other. The action of the book is ...more
May 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
"When was the last time you tore through a work of literary fiction at the rate of a Tom Clancy thriller? Personally, when I discover I’m holding a smart novel that’s also a page turner, I get punchy. Not only have I spotted a unicorn; we are gamboling down the dale hand in hand. A novel of ideas and an engrossing story? It’s the umami experience: salty and sweet, yin and yang, the rocket scientist who is also a looker."

Boris Fishman in The New York Times

A underrated novel that surfs two massive
Daniel Sevitt
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.
Steven Langdon
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: super
David Bezmozgis saw his previous novel, "The Free World," nominated for the (2011) Giller Prize, and now this excellent new novel, "The Betrayers," has received a similar designation for the 2014 Giller Prize. This recognition underlines how well this author, born in Latvia and brought to Canada as a child, has come to write.

This year's 6 Giller nominees all convey a sense of social and political relevance that is unusual for English Canadian fiction. There are insights in the various novels int
Dec 20, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Why oh why do publishers do things like print books with no quotations? At least in this book they used the dash to indicate someone speaking, but still a lot of the time you don't know who is speaking. If there's an advantage to using weird punctuation, I wish someone would point it out.

So I'm frustrated with the lack of quotations, there's a lot of politics regarding Russia/Crimea...settlements in the West Bank, Zionism...I'm not the most well versed on these subjects, but I'm not clueless eit
Book Review & Giveaway: David Bezmozgis is a multi-award-winning Canadian author and filmmaker who has taken to heart the advice given writers, i.e., to write what you know. For him, this means writing stories honoring his Eastern European Jewish roots. His latest novel, The Betrayers, is extremely timely because of the situation in the Ukraine and Crimea right now with Russia and because of escalating tensions between Israel and Palestine. Those situations caused him a few problems because ...more
Jake Goretzki
Oct 22, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
(Canadian) Giller Prize Shortlist #2

Decent work. 'Moral thriller' (as someone describes it in the blurb) is a fair way of putting it. Refuseniks are a really interesting subject actually (and one I imagine Riga-born Bezmozgis is going to be well qualified to cover). The Yalta setting is pretty fertile too (I forgot about that trolleybus).

He also 'gets' Russia (in a way that A.D. Miller - who's on the blurb of the UK edition definitely didn't), meaning we're mostly spared the sentimental accordi
I read this book in two sittings, but had I known from the start the sweep of the second half, I probably would have finished it in one. A well-paced plot and clean, sharp sentences guide you swiftly from the first word to the last, while immersing you in three-dimensional vistas, relationships, and dilemmas. Whether you are versed in the historical and contemporary geographical and political landscape or not, there is much intrigue and drama to bite into and enough context to situate you. As in ...more
Bert Hirsch
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Courage,betrayal and forgiveness are all explored in this novel about. Russian Jewish refusnik who becomes a hero when liberated from the gulag and goes to live in Israel.

Of special interest are the author's remarks at the end of the paperback edition.
Jan 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Cathy by: Shelly Schindler
Baruch Kotler and his young mistress, Leora, arrive in Yalta in Crimea, not so much for a vacation, but to flee the scandals that have begun to be exposed just as Kotler opposed the Israeli government’s plans to withdraw from the West Bank Settlements. From the minute they reach Yalta, not all is well. Having lost their hotel reservation, they return to the bus station where people compete for borders in their private houses. Kohler visited this town once during his childhood for a month so he h ...more
Oct 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A perfect book: length matches content, language in harmony with a most interesting story. A novella, this is the world of Graham Greene and Philip Roth; it has the cosmopolitan dark politics of the former and the Jewish specificity of the latter. The economy in the writing is a marvel to behold: In one sentence you get the character such as, "she lived her life hoping to merit his good opinion." Yalta in the summer comes alive and takes the reader to a world often not visited. "The rival flows ...more
Kati Berman
Aug 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. I will not repeat the plot, as so many did that before me. This novel is so well written, you don't find too many books that are written so well. Why did I take off a star? I found it somewhat difficult to get into it, but the second half totally drew me in. This book definitely makes you think. Although far fetched, it was important that Baruch and Tankilevich meet again, since that is a huge part of the story. It awed me, that although the novel covered only two days in the li ...more
Alison Miller-astor
I've been stuck on reviewing this book, basically because I just don't know what to say about it. So this will be a very, very short review. The premise was very interesting, a one-time Soviet refusenik who eventually emigrated to Israel and became a leading political figure, to then oppose Israeli policy and flee back to the Ukraine because of publicity about his scandalous affair with a young woman. The writing was excellent; the characters well-developed. I loved the historical slice containe ...more
Aug 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow! So well written. I bookmarked many passages. In addition, I appreciated the inner reflection of the main characters and their complex interaction. Can't wait to discuss it in the MCJC Book Group!
Lisa Bernstein
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story is about an Israeli politician who has a history suspiciously like Natan Sharansky's, caught up in a scandal and who encounters his KGB accuser these many years later. I thought the story was really good, though I didn't like that the author didn't use quotation marks.
I think this story would have been a more interesting to me if I had a whole lot more knowledge of the history and struggles between the Israelis, Palestinians, Jewish people etc. etc. I think this book was well written, but was lost on me, for the most part, because of my ignorance
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Born in Riga, Latvia, Bezmozgis moved to Canada when he was six. He attended McGill University and then received his MFA from USC's School of Cinema-Television. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, and Zoetrope. In 2010 he was chosen by The New Yorker as one of the best 20 writers under 40.
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“This is what I discovered during my imprisonment. I saw the human character in its naked form. I saw at one end a narrow rank of villainy, and at the other a narrow rank of virtue. In the middle was everyone else. And I understood that the state of the world is the result of the struggle between these two extremes.” 2 likes
“—I would say that one walks hand in hand with fate. Fate pulls in one direction, you pull in the other. You follow fate; fate follows you. And it is not always possible to say who is leading whom.” 1 likes
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