Giller Reading Day 1: The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis

Untitled design-3One of the reasons I decided to read each book on the Giller Prize shortlist is because the list exposes readers to topics and plots worth exploring. It also allows for readers, such as myself, to be introduced to books we might not have picked up otherwise. That’s definitely the case when it comes to The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis, a novel that explores peoples morals set against an Israeli backdrop. Of course this unveils a number of themes including betrayal, an individuals character and the difference between right and wrong. Often times, these themes are discussed in the news and on social media, but it’s rare that these themes are discussed in a fictional sense from the voice of Russian Jewish male. If you decide to pick up The Betrayers, you’ll quickly see that Bezmozgis sets out to do just that by creating two men by the names of Kotler and Tankilevich.

Told in the span of 24 hours, we meet Baruch Kotler, a beloved Israeli politician who has been shunned by his people for voicing his opinion and refusing to succumb to blackmail. He (and his mistress) decide to escape the “mess” by traveling to the small town in which Kotler was raised, Crimean, Russia. Fate steps in and he comes face to face with Tankilevich, the man who betrayed him by denouncing Kotler to the KBG years prior, causing Kotler to spend 13 years in prison. The narration flips back and forth between the two men allowing for the reader to fully understand why both men now lead such different lives.

The reader will continuously be forced to examine their moral compass while reading this book. Do you always do the right thing? Are you ashamed of past behaviour? What about your current behaviour? In The Betrayerscracks are exposed and both Kotler and Tankilevich are forced to examine their past and their present decisions. T.D. Jakes once said,

We think that forgiveness is weakness, but it’s absolutely not; it takes a very strong person to forgive.

It’s very simple for someone to say those words, but pride and dignity always play a role in the act of forgiveness, especially when someone feels so badly betrayed. That being said, it also requires everyone involved in the feud to take a good, hard, look in the mirror and ask themselves, “have I done everything perfectly? Have I ever messed up? Am I wrong?” This reoccurring theme is the main thread of this very smart and very important novel by David Bezmozgis. Tough and controversial subjects are explored that will cause the reader to sit up a little straighter. This is by no means an easy book to read, but it is a book that deserves to be read. In my opinion, the writing and character development in the novel is what caused it to earn a well deserved spot on the prestigious Giller Prize shortlist and whether it wins or loses, I urge each and every one of you to pick it up.

Be sure to come back to the blog tomorrow when I’ll be sharing my thoughts on Tell by Frances Itani. 

The Scotiabank Giller Prize Winner will be announced on CBC Television on Monday, November 10 at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT).

Oh and if you’re like me and feel like celebrating the Giller Prize announcement in a fancy dress with an alcoholic beverage, I urge you to head out to your local Giller Light Bash. Parties will be taking place across the country in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg and Halifax. Be sure to check out

3 thoughts on “Giller Reading Day 1: The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis

  1. Carole Besharah says:

    Thanks for sharing the great review, Lindsey. I’m reading The Girl Who Was Saturday Night at the moment (I have a love-hate reaction to all of O’Neill’s similes. Can’t wait to read your opinion about her style.) The Betrayers is next on my list, especially after reading this review.

    I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED My October (being a Francophone, I related to the themes and appreciated the allusions to my favorite French-Canadian novel, Bonheur d’occasion). I was sad when it didn’t make the longlist.

    Also, I look forward to hearing which book you will be rooting for.come Giller night. I so wish the was a Giller Light Bash in Ottawa. Have fun in your fancy dress and a martini in hand!

  2. Christa says:

    I wasn’t originally interested in this book but your review makes me think I may like it more than I thought I would. I’m also very excited for the Giller Light!

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