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The Believers [Paperback]

Zoe Heller
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 9 2010
The book opens with a prologue set in mid-sixties London, where Joel Litvinoff, an American civil rights lawyer, meets a young Englishwoman, Audrey. After a brief and apparently casual affair, she decides to go to the United States and marry him.
The main narrative then commences in New York in 2002. Joel is 72 and approaching the end of a long and illustrious career as an activist lawyer. He and Audrey live in Greenwich Village and have three adult children: two daughters, Rosa and Karla, and an adopted son, Lenny. Audrey is now an acid-tongued, domineering woman in late middle age who fiercely defends, but never questions, the political stance that has shaped her life. Her most tender feelings appear to be directed towards Lenny, a frequent drug user who is incapable of personal responsibility.
Karla, the neglected and under-appreciated oldest child, is a social worker who is married, not very happily, to Mike. They have been trying unsuccessfully to start a family. Rosa works with disadvantaged young girls. She is becoming increasingly interested in Judaism, a faith rejected along with all others by her Jewish parents. For this she is much derided by Audrey.
Joel suffers a stroke while in court and is in a coma for most of the time span covered by the book. Audrey is convinced he is not getting proper care in the hospital and creates difficulties for its medical staff. During this time of stress, Karla’s unhappiness with her marriage rises to the surface. She begins an affair with Khaled, originally from Egypt, who runs a newspaper store at the hospital where they both work. Rosa immerses herself in the study of Orthodox Judaism and, though she finds many of its teachings difficult to accept, though she perseveres. A stranger, Berenice Mason, introduces herself to Audrey, claiming that her son is Joel’s illegitimate child. Though Audrey initially dismisses her with contempt, it emerges that her story is true and that Berenice has been receiving regular financial support from Joel.
Lenny is persuaded by Audrey’s friend Jean to go to her country home in Pennsylvania for a month in order to get off drugs. He makes great progress there and, when Audrey visits, he proposes settling in Pennsylvania permanently. Appalled by the prospect of losing him, Audrey does her best to discourage the idea. Rosa abandons, and then takes up again, her studies in Orthodox Judaism deciding finally that she must pursue her religious intuitions.

Joel dies without regaining consciousness. At his funeral, which is attended by thousands, Audrey gives a eulogy in which she celebrates her 40-year marriage to her husband and makes a public acknowledgment of Berenice and her son. At the reception afterwards, Karla makes a last-minute, momentous decision regarding her own marriage.

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

Product Description


The Believers is funny, serious, well plotted and well written, sympathetic without being sentimental, thought-provoking and enjoyable; in short, that rare specimen every reader hopes for when opening a new book.”
The Globe and Mail

“An intelligent, darkly comic and richly entertaining read.”
Edmonton Journal

“In her portrait of an obsessive and manipulative school teacher [in Notes on a Scandal] . . . Heller displayed her undeniable gift for creating human beings who behave dreadfully. She’s at it again with The Believers.”
Calgary Herald

“Heller’s skewering of left-wing hypocrisy is so devilishly hilarious.”
Toronto Star

“Heller has a way with characters. . . . Her fine prose appears effortless.”
The Boston Globe

“An astonishingly well-observed, slow burner, it’s virtuoso prose compressed and beautiful.”
The Guardian

“Relevant, expansive, and subtle. . . . A writer of consistently high-class, understated and shattering fiction.”
— Lionel Shriver, the Daily Telegraph

“Heller’s writing in The Believers is never less than stunning: Her eye for detail and ear for dialogue are masterful, if unsettling.”
National Post

“Heller is at her best here.”
The Gazette

“Marriage, politics, religion - ha! . . . The Believers is easily Heller’s most ambitious and satisfying book.”
Globe and Mail (interview)

“Brilliant. . . . This novel’s blackly comic accounts . . . remind the reader of Ms. Heller’s ability, first glimpsed in [Notes on a Scandal].”
The New York Times

“Funny, sharp, caustic, deft and ruthless.”
The Mail on Sunday

“This is a novel rich in humour and packed with sparkling dialogue. Above all, it’s a funny and brilliant analysis of what makes families tick.”
Sunday Express

“A brilliant, brilliant book.”
Daily Mail

From the Hardcover edition.

From the Back Cover

When radical New York lawyer Joel Litvinoff is felled by a stroke, his wife, Audrey, uncovers a secret that forces her to reexamine everything she thought she knew about their forty-year marriage. Joel’s children will soon have to come to terms with this discovery themselves, but for the meantime, they are struggling with their own dilemmas and doubts.

Rosa, a disillusioned revolutionary, has found herself drawn into the world of Orthodox Judaism and is now being pressed to make a commitment to that religion. Karla, a devoted social worker hoping to adopt a child with her husband, is falling in love with the owner of a newspaper stand outside her office. Ne’er-do-well Lenny is living at home, approaching another relapse into heroin addiction.

In the course of battling their own demons—and one another—the Litvinoff clan is called upon to examine long-held articles of faith that have formed the basis of their lives together and their identities as individuals. In the end, all the family members will have to answer their own questions and decide what—if anything—they still believe in.

Hailed by the Sunday Times (London) as "one of the outstanding novels of the year," The Believers explores big ideas with a light touch, delivering a tragic, comic family story as unsparing as it is filled with compassion.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reexaming Long-Held Articles of Faith... April 25 2009
When a radical NY lawyer, Joel Litvinoff, is felled by a stroke, a long-buried secret is uncovered and the members of his family, especially his wife Audrey, are forced to reexamine long-held articles of faith.

Audrey's views on life and especially her perception of the myth of "Joel and Audrey, the entity," are shaken to the core. After all, the "Joel and Audrey" she had come to believe in was almost an institution.

Daughter Rosa, a disillusioned revolutionary, turns to Orthodox doctrine; Karla, a social worker hoping to adopt a child with her husband, is falling in love with the owner of a newspaper stand; and Lenny, the adopted son, is relapsing once again into his heroin addiction.

While Joel lies in a coma in the hospital, battling his illness, his family members battle their demons.

Author Zoe Heller, whose What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal: A Novel earned acclaim, has skillfully woven the details of this drama - the dilemmas and conflicts of Audrey, Rosa, Karla and Lenny, as well as a supporting cast of characters - into a masterful, yet emotional and intellectual probing; nothing will be left unexamined by the end of this tale. And how the pieces fall together afterwards - well, the reader may be able to anticipate some of the changes, but others will certainly come as a surprise.

The Believers captured my attention, as I love a good family drama. I found it easy to immerse myself in the characters, as they examined and reexamined their true beliefs.

Laurel-Rain Snow
Author of: Web of Tyranny, etc.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ZOE HELLER IS A LITERARY GIANT April 6 2009
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Following her second novel, What Was She Thinking? Notes On A Scandal,which was not only a Booker Prize finalist but also made into an Oscar nominated film, Zoe Heller presents an insightful, deftly layered
study of a dysfunctional New York family.

The author unflinchingly details the derailment of the Litvinoff family after father Joel, is felled by a major stroke which leaves him in a coma. He is a lawyer well known for his political views as well as impassioned defenses of radicals and terrorists. Wife, Audrey is a thoroughly disagreeable woman who disparages their daughters, Rosa and Karla, at every turn.

After some 40 years of marriage she considers her acerbic comments to be rather charming, sort of beguiling when they are in reality mean spirited and cruel. Karla is an overweight social worker married to Mike, a union organizer, who worships her father. They are unsuccessfully trying to have a child with perfunctory love making that leaves Karla wondering why or how her life came to this.

Rosa, although raised in a Jewish family devoid of any religious beliefs, finds herself strangely drawn to an Orthodox faith. She attends a synagogue and participates in a Shabbaton, which she describes as "an extended Sabbath with extra lectures and things" in response to Audrey's insulting, irreverent questions.

No peace or congeniality is to be found anywhere in the Litvinoff clan, certainly not between Audrey and Joel's mother, Hannah, who bicker as "In his silence, Joel had become a perfectly passive prize, an infinitely interpretable symbol: a Sphinx whose meanings and ownership they could squabble over forever, without fear of decisive contradiction.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully written... May 3 2010
Heller's newest novel is a great read. Although most of her characters are rather distasteful, they are REAL. Full of the nuances of character that separate a well-written novel like Heller's from a fair novel like those of Danielle Steele, whose characters are usually one-dementional. Heller's plot, too, is nuanced, as life really is. You might not "like" Heller's characters, but you certainly want to know more about them. That's the mark of a good novel.

Another five-star review spoke about the satiric depiction of the Litvinoff family, whose family patriarch, a radical lawyer, lays dying from a severe stroke in New York in the year after 9/11. The other family members - whose lives and loves radiate out from the parents - are not as broadly drawn as the parents, particularly Audrey, the mother, mother-in-law, wife, friend, etc, from hell. Audrey and Joel are drawn a touch broadly, but I didn't think the children were quite as much.

I always enjoy and appreciate great writing. Heller's novel is a good example of great writing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Reassessment of Life Jan. 17 2010
The Believers is really a stand out novel in its writing and characters - it is not the usual formulaic story or writing style.

Heller brings to life a dysfunctional family with questions of religious beliefs, conflicts within the family and various fear and insecurities that we all feel and fear.

The story launches in earnest around the illness of the father, an attorney, who suffers a stroke and the questions begin to burden his family and question their lives.

During the search and revelations there are twists and suprises, and yes there is also some humor in it all.

Very satisfying book.
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