Excerpt: David Bezmozgis’s The Betrayers
Political and personal revenge are at the centre of two-time Giller nominee David Bezmozgis’s latest novel, The Betrayers. An Israeli politician flees with his young lover after scandalous photos are leaked in retaliation for his dismissal of a plan to have Israel withdraw from its West Bank settlements. Read Quill & Quire’s review.
A thousand kilometers away, while the next great drama of his life was unfolding and God was banging His gavel to shake the Judaean hills, Baruch Kotler sat in the lobby of a Yalta hotel and watched his young mistress berate the hotel clerk — a pretty blond girl, who endured the assault with a stiff, mulish expression. A particularly Russian sort of expression, Kotler thought. The morose, disdainful expression with which the Russians had greeted their various invaders. An expression that denoted an irrational, mortal refusal to capitulate—the pride and bane of the Russian people. That Leora persisted in arguing with the girl proved that she was the product of another culture. In Israel, notoriously obstinate country, argument could be sport, sometimes engaged in for its own sake, sometimes to accomplish something. But this Levantine penchant for argument was of no use in a Crimean hotel at high season. Much had changed, Kotler observed—the very existence of this modern hotel and a few others like it; the vacationers in their Western fashions and their brash, contemptuous, cheerful, money-induced postures; all the visible appurtenances of progress and prosperity — but at the root, where it mattered, there was no change. One had only to look at the Russian girl’s face. A people’s mentality, this hard nut, mysterious and primitive, resisted change. Yet to espouse such a view was now considered provocative, and it was precisely this sort of provocative thinking that had landed him in his predicament, Kotler thought gravely — but not without a twist of ironic satisfaction.
Leora spun away from the registration desk and strode over to Kotler. He regarded her as she approached, a strong-minded Jewish girl, dark curls flying, black eyes fierce with indignation, her solid, compact figure radiating rebuke. Perhaps someone could think, considering them, that here was a dutiful daughter vacationing with her father. But wasn’t that yet another of the changes, the increased number of daughters and fathers who seemed to be vacationing together?
—The cow says they have no record of our reservation, Leora announced. An outright lie. I was tempted to tell her whom she was dealing with.
—I’m sure it would have made a profound impression.
—I wouldn’t be so dismissive of your importance.
—Well, there’s something I’ve seldom been accused of, Kotler said.
—I don’t find this nearly as amusing as you do.
—All right, Leora, what do you propose we do? Write an open letter, stage a hunger strike?
Each trailing a suitcase, they stepped from the coolness of the marble lobby into the bright glare of the esplanade. In his disguise of white Borsalino hat and dark sunglasses, Kotler blinked out at the tourists who flowed past, the waiters who raced among tables at a café nearby, and the customers who beset the souvenir booths along the stone wall.
Beyond which: the sea and the sunbathers on the gray pebble beach. So how much had really changed? Kotler thought. Fifty-three years ago, had the picture been so very different? There’d been no modern hotels, and the offerings at the cafés and souvenir booths hadn’t been quite so eclectic, but there had still been plenty to enchant a ten-year-old boy. Kotler recalled the open-air concerts, the hikes with his father in the surrounding hills, the excursions to the Greek ruins and the Italian fortress, and the long, aimless, scorching days at the beach. They had spent an entire month this way, he and his parents, their only such time together. In the scheme of his family’s story, this one month assumed a legendary, halcyon quality. They never succeeded in repeating it. The following summer, his mother had a terrible appendicitis scare. The summer after that, his father switched jobs. And after that, Kotler’s vaunted musical aspirations interceded. His parents agreed that he shouldn’t spend so much time away from his piano lessons. The great Myron Leventhal consented to take him on, and Kotler traveled for the first time to Moscow. And after that, it was too late. There was always something else he preferred to do. When he wasn’t preoccupied with his studies, he was preoccupied with friends, with girls, and eventually with politics. In retrospect, given the way their lives unfolded, what a shame it was that they never managed to return to Crimea.
Kotler and Leora paused outside the hotel to adjust to their surroundings and circumstances. Leora gazed at the neighboring hotels.
—There’s no point, Kotler said, following her gaze. When I called yesterday, they told me I was getting their last room. It’s August. The town is booked up. Everywhere here we’ll get the same answer.
Excerpted from THE BETRAYERS by David Bezmozgis. Copyright © 2014 by Nada Films, Inc. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.