The Believers

The Believers

Book - 2009
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Random House, Inc.
The book opens with a prologue set in mid-sixties London, where Joel Litvinoff, an American civil rights lawyer, meets a young Englishwoman, Audrey. After a brief and apparently casual affair, she decides to go to the United States and marry him.
The main narrative then commences in New York in 2002. Joel is 72 and approaching the end of a long and illustrious career as an activist lawyer. He and Audrey live in Greenwich Village and have three adult children: two daughters, Rosa and Karla, and an adopted son, Lenny. Audrey is now an acid-tongued, domineering woman in late middle age who fiercely defends, but never questions, the political stance that has shaped her life. Her most tender feelings appear to be directed towards Lenny, a frequent drug user who is incapable of personal responsibility.
Karla, the neglected and under-appreciated oldest child, is a social worker who is married, not very happily, to Mike. They have been trying unsuccessfully to start a family. Rosa works with disadvantaged young girls. She is becoming increasingly interested in Judaism, a faith rejected along with all others by her Jewish parents. For this she is much derided by Audrey.
Joel suffers a stroke while in court and is in a coma for most of the time span covered by the book. Audrey is convinced he is not getting proper care in the hospital and creates difficulties for its medical staff. During this time of stress, Karla’s unhappiness with her marriage rises to the surface. She begins an affair with Khaled, originally from Egypt, who runs a newspaper store at the hospital where they both work. Rosa immerses herself in the study of Orthodox Judaism and, though she finds many of its teachings difficult to accept, though she perseveres. A stranger, Berenice Mason, introduces herself to Audrey, claiming that her son is Joel’s illegitimate child. Though Audrey initially dismisses her with contempt, it emerges that her story is true and that Berenice has been receiving regular financial support from Joel.
Lenny is persuaded by Audrey’s friend Jean to go to her country home in Pennsylvania for a month in order to get off drugs. He makes great progress there and, when Audrey visits, he proposes settling in Pennsylvania permanently. Appalled by the prospect of losing him, Audrey does her best to discourage the idea. Rosa abandons, and then takes up again, her studies in Orthodox Judaism deciding finally that she must pursue her religious intuitions.

Joel dies without regaining consciousness. At his funeral, which is attended by thousands, Audrey gives a eulogy in which she celebrates her 40-year marriage to her husband and makes a public acknowledgment of Berenice and her son. At the reception afterwards, Karla makes a last-minute, momentous decision regarding her own marriage.

Publisher: Toronto : A.A. Knopf Canada, 2009, c2008
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780676978056
Branch Call Number: FIC HEL
Characteristics: 335 p. ;,24 cm.


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WVMLStaffPicks Sep 14, 2014

When esteemed civil-rights lawyer Joel Litvinoff suffers a stroke and falls into a coma, his wife and daughters are thrown into emotional turmoil as they grapple with their relationships to one another and their own political and spiritual beliefs. Told with brilliant dialogue and sharply etched characters that pull the reader into this fascinating, contemporary family.

Jane60201 Nov 03, 2013

This book seemed to be more "real" than a lot of novels written by women about family life. I couldn't put it down and am going to recommend it to others.

ksoles May 19, 2011

Zoe Heller is probably best known for her novel, "What Was She Thinking? Notes On A Scandal," which became an Oscar-nominated movie. But Heller's newest book, "The Believers," certainly deserves the same attention as it paints an insightful, multi-vocalic portrait of a dysfunctional New York family.

The author describes the trials of the Litvinoffs after father Joel suffers a major stroke and ends up in a coma. A lawyer famous for his passionate defenses of political radicals, Joel leaves his caustic, disagreeable wife, Audrey, to handle his legacy. Also greatly affected by Joel's absence are his children: Karla, an overweight social worker trapped in an unhappy marriage; Rosa, a disillusioned revolutionary who finds herself strangely drawn to Orthodox Judaism; and Lenny, the adopted, heroin-addicted son.

As the story unfolds, all the characters experience revelations, forcing them to discover who they are and who they want to be. Heller's prose is astute, imaginative and humorous, all the while drawing attention to the subtleties of human behaviour, relationships and faith.

Feb 19, 2011

The central female character is very nasty but so well constructed that she fascinates.
It is pretty satirical and, I feel, ends very positively for most characters - not sure Audrey would ever change but at least she understands who she is.
I feel this book is about personal beliefs that people invest in – religious & otherwise, even understanding of ourselves and how we are sometimes forced to reexamine these. I do not think it is coincidence that the lawyer is defending someone whose religious/political beliefs & values may clash with others - that is the same situation his family members have found or will find themselves experiencing. Actually, now that I stumbled on these comments while trying to remember the author's name...I am going to reread it.

Jul 20, 2010

A satire about most belief systems - religious, social, political, even the belief in one's self. Good writing made it a compelling read, which is amazing considering how unlikeable the characters were.

Jan 03, 2010

I couldn't finish this. Perhaps if I was religious it might have been more interesting. Protagonist is such a nasty person, I read for awhile just to see what would happen to her but eventually's too short and there are too many other great books to read instead!

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