Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.
Kurt Anderson set True Believers in the near future, mainly 2014, but much of the novel is long flashbacks to the transitional decade of the 1960s when main character Karen Hollander was a teenager becoming more and more radicalized by the Viet Nam War and the Civil Rights Movement. In the novel’s present day Karen Hollander has a teenage grandchild allowing her, as a first person narrator, to have lengthy digressions comparing the present to the past. These musings add substantially to the length of this 400+ page book, but as someone who lived through the rapidly evolving ethos of the 1960s I was often engrossed by those well thought-out reflections.
True Believers vividly brings back to life an era I lived through, but while fascinating it’s not a completely comfortable trip. Someone said, “If you remember the 1960s you weren’t there,” but I’d amend that to, “If you’re nostalgic for the 1960s you don’t remember them.” Though in some ways it was a more innocent time, today’s divisions and demonstrations pale by comparison and many of them have their roots in that era. The book has refreshingly few anachronisms and it might be that the ones that jarred me were things I wasn’t aware of then; maybe people did do victory fist pumps in the early, prerevolutionary 1960s after something like a good round of bowling, but my memory is those clenched fists came later in the decade.
Since the story is told in the first person, main character Karen Hollander can actually tell readers she’s a reliable narrator, but she’s also a narrator who relies on delaying information to create tension. She takes her time and teases the reader, slowly parceling out details about the subversive act she participated in during the late 60s that’s giving her the urge to come clean in a confessional tell-all. As someone who took herself out of the running for a spot on the Supreme Court, it’s a memoir that would capture a lot of attention, but that fact makes this mostly realistic character seem unnaturally cold. She has no concern for how publicly revealing old secrets may affect her former friends, and when her actions cause tragedy she cries for a while but then moves on without any regret or second guessing of her choices.
Minor quibbles aside, True Believers is enthralling, and a go-to novel for anyone interested in reliving or understanding the mindset of the 1960s.