In True Believers. Kurt Andersen - the New York Times best-selling and critically acclaimed author of Heyday and Turn of the Century - delivers his most powerful and moving novel yet. Dazzling in its wit and effervescent insight, this kaleidoscopic tour de force of cultural observation and seductive storytelling alternates between the present and the 1960s - and indelibly captures the enduring impact of that time on the ways we live now.
Karen Hollander is a celebrated attorney who recently removed herself from consideration for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Her reasons have their roots in 1968 - an episode she’s managed to keep secret for more than 40 years. Now, with the imminent publication of her memoir, she’s about to let the world in on that shocking secret - as soon as she can track down the answers to a few crucial last questions.
As junior-high-school kids back in the early '60s, Karen and her two best friends, Chuck and Alex, roamed suburban Chicago on their bikes looking for intrigue and excitement. Inspired by the exotic romance of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, they acted out elaborate spy missions pitting themselves against imaginary Cold War villains. As friendship carries them through childhood and on to college - in a polarized late-sixties America riven by war and race as well as sex, drugs, and rock and roll - the bad guys cease to be the creatures of make-believe. Caught up in the fervor of that extraordinary and uncanny time, they find themselves swept into a dangerous new game with the highest possible stakes.
Today, only a handful of people are left who know what happened. As Karen reconstructs the past and reconciles the girl she was then with the woman she is now, finally sharing pieces of her secret past with her national-security-cowboy boyfriend and Occupy-activist granddaughter, the power of memory and history and luck become clear.
A resonant coming-of-age story and a thrilling political mystery, True Believers is Kurt Andersen’s most ambitious novel to date, introducing a brilliant, funny, and irresistible new heroine to contemporary fiction.
©2012 Kurt Andersen (P)2012 Random House
trying to see the world with my ears
This is romance in the people-in-love sense but more a romance of the 60s. With a 2013 setting, the action revolves around research into the past, so it???s a tale told through filtered memory and research - just like history. The 64 yr old law prof main character writes a memoir to set the record straight on her 60s activism before she starts to lose her memory, and knowing "how memory and history are sugar coated," she tries to arrive at the truth. The mystery is secondary to the social history and coming of age detail.
In places the main storyline was weak and implausible - but I was too busy enjoying the descriptions of the 60s to notice most of the time. The novel tries too hard to make witty observations on culture then and now, but I enjoyed that part too - can't have an easy read and perfect philosophy in the same novel. There is reflection on the evolution of the left and on big brother technology. I thought there was little too much chatty detail about the main character coming of age and she was a little too Forrest Gump-ish in her witness to the iconic events of the time.
This might be a much different listen for different generations, from the late middle-aged reconstructing their own biography by the cultural landmarks used by the law prof to contemporaries of the prof???s granddaughter whose first memory = 9/11. As
a tale of 60s activism revisited, I give a slight edge to Neil Gordon???s The Company You Keep, but I still loved almost every minute of this listen.
I enjoyed the historical detail about a time which I was just a bit too young to remember clearly and the rather dynamic juxtaposition of scenes from then and a just slightly future "now" that plausibly imagines what will come out of today's trends.
I very much liked the character of the protagonist, Karen Hollander and the way she was voiced by the narrator, Vanessa Hart.
The persona of the story's narrator and the cultural details of life in the 1960s and 70s made this a thoroughly engaging novel. Author Kurt Anderson did a masterful job in maintaining a suspenseful plot that culminated in a satisfying ending.
It seemed hard to get into the first chapter or two, but the more you listen, the more intrigued you get. By the second half of the book, you're hooked. Not sure I would listen to it again, though, since I know how it turns out.
I read this book after finishing Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth thinking nothing could equal the satisfaction of that intelligent and brilliant book about stories themselves. But True Believers met the match! Both books are rich with complex ideas to grapple with and the readers provide an even deeper level of satisfaction as they seem to perfectly inhabit the protagonist's voice. Being a 57-year-old, I remember the tensions and intrigues of the past with both fear and sentimentality, so these books had particular resonance and significance. Both books deliver all the pleasures of Ian Fleming's 007 while True Believers in particular offers deep reflections on the psyche of a generation. This is not just a GREAT book, but offers a valuable image to explain the American consciousness.
Sweet Tooth and True Believers make a great double-billing with their similarity of content, although different in subject. A follow-up read of Sotomayor's "My Beloved World," makes for a trifecta!
story and 1960s
Andersen may have been a bit young during the 1960s (born in 1954) but he captures quite a bit of it in True Believers. Karen Hollander grows up enacting Bond plots with her male friends alluding to something beyond play acting for a good part of the book as she reflects back on her life from the comfort of a law school deanship in 2013. We only learn what that event is near the end providing a bit of mystery. In spite of her youthful exuberance she has gone on to a distinguished legal career. She was even nominated to be on the Supreme Court. Fear of exposure haunts her decision. There are plenty of ‘60s flashbacks many of them spiced with reflections on music of the era. This is a book that puts those of us who lived through the ‘60s back in them and will provide some flavor of what it was like for younger readers. The story is well told and holds interest from beginning to end.
I have enjoyed two other books by Kurt Andersen, and would listen to anything by him again. Vanessa Hart was good, and glad they used only one narrator. When multiple narrators are used it is distracting.
I decided on this book knowing nothing about it. And within a few minutes, discovered that the main character was my age, from the same state, and like me attended an East Coast college in 1968, and a diabetic. It is not often you read a thriller about people you could have been given the inclination. It is fiction but the actual history is well-researched.
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