The “Betrayers” by David Bezmozgis, a Jewish- Latvian-Canadian writer is definitely morally ambitious and is unflinching on looking at the face of the life choices we make.
I do admire how the characters have been fully developed with Bezmozgis’ taciturn dialogue and haunting visitation of past sins. Moreover, the book clearly reflects a thorough and hard research both in Israel and Crimea and even in Riga among refuseniks, Zionists, politician both from the left and the right in Jerusalem and even soldiers in the occupied territories. Kotler, Tankilevich, Miriam, Leora, Nina Semenovna, Svetlana and Benzion are a plethora of characters, imprisoned in the confines of historical pedagogy, both faithful and unfaithful to the choices they embrace. The Jewish diaspora is not yet done. It continues to inflict and engage the rabid Hasids and the cosmopolitan urbanites of Tel Aviv, even the young author himself. A different kind of diaspora though, that of being “spiritually homeless” as an immigrant in Toronto.
My highlight experience is the pivotal encounter of the main protagonist with his tormentor from 40 years ago who was responsible for his incarceration in a Russian gulag. What is the texture of revenge and forgiveness when both are already on the twilight of their lives? The four characters whom fate or mere coincidence has generously indulged them in Yalta, provided a background to the philosophical answer to this. This part is teeming with religious tensions, raw emotions, tectonic perspectives of past actions, remorse and tolerant disdain and even the artistic plausibility of no apparent closure. Remarkable treatment that can only come from a writer who has mastered the labyrinth of human condition.
Another heart-wrenching part is the letter of Miriam who compares herself with King David’s Bathsheba and the paramour of Kotler, Leora, as Abishag. From Ecclesiastes, “for there is not a righteous man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not”, this became her guide as she humbled and prostrated before the figurative King David to honor his promise and make her son Solomon the rightful heir. For how can you reconcile the fact that a wife who had fought for more than a decade to let her husband be freed from a Russian prison, succeeded and shared with him the fruits of a happy marriage and children, in old age left behind by a husband with a young lover? Find a soulful answer to this question in this book.
I am profoundly surprised by this work of Bezmozgis, his third, because the novel released in 2014 is brave to confront life’s difficult questions that don’t necessarily have answers. Bezmozgis is one writer who blends Nabokov and Chekhov splendidly. No wonder he chose Yalta in Crimea as the setting of this novel of reckoning because the two literary giants in one way or another have links with this once enclave of Jews.
Betrayers is elegance un-betrayed, faithful to the Muses of literature.