Kurt Andersen’s short bio on Amazon.com describes True Believers as “a novel about youth, secrets, lies, politics, love and James Bond.” All that’s true, of course, but it misses the point. So far as I’m concerned, this is a book about coming of age in the famously turbulent years of the 1960s.
I’m eight or ten years older than Karen Hollander, Andersen’s protagonist, so I experienced that era of assassination, the Vietnam War, the Generation Gap, the Credibility Gap, the Levitation of the Pentagon, and the Pentagon Papers from a somewhat more jaundiced perspective. Unlike Hollander, the 1960s didn’t make me into a “true believer.” In fact, for most of the time in which this novel is grounded — the mid- to late-1960s — I was safely sequestered in the Ecuadorian Andes as a Peace Corps Volunteer working with Quechua-speaking indigenous people, who couldn’t have cared less what decade it was or where on earth I came from. Who knows? If I’d stayed home for the show, I too might have become a true believer.
True Believers by Kurt Andersen @@@@ (4 out of 5)
As a reader, you and I find ourselves caring about Karen Hollander because (a) she is a ferociously bright and witty person with a winsome personality, (b) she is a distinguished leader in the legal profession who is now dean of a major law school and only recently removed her name from consideration for appointment to the US Supreme Court, and (c) Kurt Andersen is one hell of a writer. We care about why Hollander took herself out of the running for the nation’s highest court, so we’re driven to learn what exactly happened in 1968 that so preoccupies her.
As it turns out, what happened was as big as it gets, and it illuminates the truth of those fateful times about as well as any book, fiction or non, has ever done before. Kudos to Kurt Andersen for True Believers!
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