Customer Reviews for

The Believers

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  • Posted May 10, 2009

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    Heller Hits a Homer

    In Zoe Heller's third novel she explores the nature of belief through the off-beat and often off-putting Litvinoff family. Heller is known for her hard to like characters and this cast is no exception. The philandering patriarch Joel, his long suffering and shrewish wife Audrey,the miserable and conflicted Karla and her sister Rosa, a disillusioned radical socialist turned Orthodox Jew. Not to be forgotten is the adopted youger brother Lenny, a poster boy for solipsism and self-destruction.
    Heller's brilliance lies in her ability to tackle weighty themes through the creation of multi-dimensional and complex characters. You may not love them but in the end they do seem all too real to you.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 18, 2008

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    Thought-provoking Story With Original Characters

    'The rabbi shrugged. ¿Faith is hard, Rosa. Nonbelievers often speak of faith as if it were something easy, a cop-out from the really tough business of confronting a meaningless universe, but it¿s not. It¿s doubt that¿s easy.' - From The Believers-<BR/><BR/>When Audrey Howard meets Joel Litvinoff - a radical American lawyer - at a party in London in 1962, she is a shy and unsure young woman. But years later, now married to Joel and living in New York City, Audrey has remade herself into a brash, foul-mouthed liberal who views the world cynically and lashes out at everyone around her. When Joel collapses from a stroke and lapses into a coma, Audrey is forced to face not only her out of control temper (and the consequences of it), but her loyalty to a serial adulterer whose shadow she has always lived within.<BR/><BR/>The Litvinoff family is a complex, rather dysfunctional group of people. Rosa, the youngest daughter, is struggling with her Jewish roots and lack of faith; Karla, the eldest daughter, finds herself in a loveless marriage and struggles to develop enough self-esteem to seek the happiness she is not sure she deserves; and Lenny, the adopted son, battles drug addiction. Despite the strong personality of their father, the Litvinoff children are really more influenced by Audrey - whose boredom with motherhood and barely concealed anger at the world (and her husband in particular) dominate their lives.<BR/><BR/>Zoe Heller has written a thoughtful and provocative book about politics and religion. Thematically, she explores how individuals discover themselves, while residing within a family whose beliefs threaten to suffocate their uniqueness. Heller¿s ironic style and black humor are effective in teasing out the pitfalls of all belief systems - whether they be ¿politically correct,¿ religious, or socially radical. By choosing a mostly unlikeable protagonist (Audrey), Heller risks alienating her readers. But, instead, her ability to balance the character¿s negative traits with the very real human emotions of fear, isolation, and grief allows for empathy.<BR/><BR/>I enjoyed the twists and turns of this cerebral novel which moves steadily forward as each character resolves their conflicts - both externally and internally. This is a book which will create great discussion about the core beliefs individuals carry as they stumble through their lives.<BR/><BR/>Recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 10, 2008

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    Betrayals and beliefs

    When ultra-liberal defense attorney Joel Litvinoff succumbs to a stroke, falling into a coma, his family is burdened with all the sorrows and anxieties that usually accompany such misfortunes. But the Litvinoff "tribe" is anything but typical. There's wife Audrey, the waspish, strident English ex-pat who viewed motherhood as a distraction, and first child Rosa, who is struggling rather blindly to live up to her parents' socialist principles. Karla is the second-born, beaten down to self-loathing by her upbringing, her husband, and her chronic weight problem. Finally, Lenny, adopted (read "rescued") at age 4, the only one who stimulates Audrey's maternal feelings, and the poster child for learned helplessness. The three Litvinoff siblings are in their 30's now.<BR/><BR/>The Believers is a character-driven satire of a novel, written with psychological insight and, at times, biting humor. Author Heller displays a fine mastery of dialog, wit, and irony. There is not a single extraneous word between these covers. The Litvinoffs, among themselves, have enough emotional problems to support an army of mental health workers. No one, no matter how loved, is spared the vitriol of Audrey's zingers, and gradually, the wellspring of her bitterness reveals itself. While it is often uncomfortable to read about their inner turmoil, injections of sanity are provided by supporting characters, most notably Audrey's friend Jean and mother-in-law Hannah, and Karla's friend Khaled. Heller makes the uneasiness well worthwhile with a brilliant, authentic ending. Perhaps she'll write more about these people; I certainly hope that's the case.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 7, 2010

    A Good Read

    I enjoyed this novel better than 'Notes on a Scandal.' The characters were interesting and I liked the ideas they represented even though I didn't find any of them particularly sympathetic. This is more a thinkers read than an episodic novel but it was still a page turner for me.

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  • Posted May 14, 2009

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    I LOVED THE CHARACTERS!

    May 14, 2009. I heard about this book on NPR and am so happy that I decided to read it. Zoe Heller's quirky characters and the interaction among the family members kept me thinking about them long after the book was finished.

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  • Posted April 10, 2009

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    Great characters and story line that taps into the dysfunctional ties of this somewhat "american" family

    I heard about this book on NPR and am so happy that I picked it up. Zoe Heller does an exceptional job at painting a picture of the dysfunctional ties that can bind or break a family. I liked reading about each of the characters and the obstacles that they faced in life. I am looking forward to her next book.

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  • Posted April 6, 2009

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    ZOE HELLER IS A LITERARY GIANT

    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."

    Revelations occur as the story progresses and without Joel as the patriarchal glue that holds them all together each must make decisions for themselves, discover who they are and what they want to be.

    The pleasure of reading "The Believers" is found in Heller's astute observations of human behavior, her pinpoint characterizations, and flawless, imaginative prose. Who else would describe a dream that Audrey cannot remember as images that were "slipping away from her grasp, like the prizes in a fairground machine falling from the clumsy mechanical claw." ?

    For this reader, Heller is a literary giant, both funny and intelligent, always thought provoking and entertaining.

    - Gail Cooke

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2009

    THIS IS A GREAT BOOK

    I read the reviews on this book and took a chance and purchased it. I love this book. I love her extensive vocabulary. Great writer!

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  • Posted March 23, 2009

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    DON'T MISS THIS ONE

    I loved this book and this quirky family. It got such great reviews that I had to read it. I was not disappointed and would highly recommend it to anyone. This is the first book I've read by this author and hope she'll keep on writing.

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  • Posted February 13, 2009

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    interesting family drama

    Over four decades since the 1960s leftist activism of their youths, Audrey and Joel Litvinoff had hoped their children would have some of their enthusiasm. However, instead they live radically different lives than their parents as each of the trio attempts to escape from what they perceive has become perpetual hypocritical activism. Rosa works with troubled teens which leave her questioning right from wrong as defined by her parents. Following a Castro period, Karla has turned to marriage to escape her parents and their unending drone beat of get involved. Lenny has turned to drug addiction as his escapism.<BR/><BR/>Even Joel and Audrey have changed. Joel relishes his role as star attorney to the ¿Un-American¿ while Audrey has become shrewish re her mantra you are either part of the solution or part of the problem while sipping expensive champagne. She especially turns ugly when Joel falls into a coma after a stroke and his hypocrisy surfaces.<BR/><BR/>This is an interesting family drama as the activist parents head into late middle age, their offspring rebel against their refrain in differing ways. The five Liviniff brood are fascinating antagonists with differing personalities. However, none takes charge of holding the story line together. Instead the premise feels in many ways as an ensemble cast running from each other even when all gather at the hospital. Thus the parts are intriguing and well written but are greater than their sum.<BR/><BR/>Harriet Klausner

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  • Posted December 31, 2008

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    How worthy is to defend strongly your own beliefs?

    The believers, as the own title shows, is about beliefs.The story happens one year after 9/11 events and questions much about "the American dream" and how people live in their own beliefs prison without considering either how a thought, even a word can destroy or giving continuity to beliefs without questioning them.<BR/>After Joel's stroke, his whole family lives a frame of conflicts and what we see is a narrative building of individual dramas allied to the familiar one.Each child has its own conflict: Karla, in a constant fight against weight lose and to become pregnant. Rosa with her inclinations to Jewish in a non-religious family and Lenny in his eternal war against drugs, violence, rehab clinics, childhood traumas and the abandon of a prisoner mother.What is most impressive in the book is how we, readers, can oscilate between love and hate in relation to some characters.The most unpredictable, sardonic, acid and distasteful character is Audrey. A hating and adorable surprise at the same time revealed as reading goes on. All of the characters are constantly defending their own beliefs. As "believers" and "defenders" of their own convictions they hurt others' beliefs. It's a real and human book. Highly recomendable.

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  • Posted December 23, 2008

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    The Believers

    I also read this as a preview book. Having family in England, I could well understand the dialogue and writing style. I thought the author defined the characters well. However, that doesn't make them likable. They are all deeply flawed yet I'm not sure the author portrayed them as redeemable. The story revolves around a main character who suffers a stroke and remains in a coma. You never do get to hear his side of the story to understand his motivations in life. And he led a larger life than most. The story then must focus on Audrey, Joel's wife, and their children. How they react to the man they knew as a husband and a father when they discover some unexpected truths leads each to examine their own lives and how he shaped each one of them.

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  • Posted December 7, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Notes on The Believers

    In "Notes on a Scandal," Zoe Heller created, with consummate skill, characters that were flawed, pathos-filled and unavoidably human. The characters may have not been particularly likeable, but they were recognizable. The expectation that Ms Heller would have evolved and demonstrated greater finesse in character portrayal in this novel would have been justified; but in "The Believers," Ms Heller has over-reached herself. The Litvinoffs are a raft of characters that are flawed, derisively pathetic and, caricaturesque. By trebling her cast of main characters, the focus (foci?) is diffuse and the overall theme (belief as a crutch) fails to galvanize the novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2008

    Predictable plot

    Although the characters are very personable, the entire plot was very predictable, no suprises, unable to grasp the reader.

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  • Posted December 1, 2008

    The Believers is a disappointing read

    Zoe Heller's newest novel, The Believers, was a disappointing read for me. Being new to Ms. Heller's writing style, I was initially impressed by her prose and intrigued by the introduction to the novel. Once I finished reading the novel, I was left feeling somewhat ambivalent with the outcome. Although each character was richly developed, and at times I found myself almost liking them, by the end of the novel I was filled with both disdain and pity for nearly all of the characters. I was so disappointed and felt rather frustrated that they were each ultimately so weak or unlikeable. The novel follows the lives of Audrey and her three grown children after the initial stroke, coma, and eventual death several months later of her husband, Lenny. Each character is given opportunities to experience both change and personal growth, and while some of the characters come very close to becoming stronger and more fulfilled, ultimately none of them are able to truly impliment any changes to their lives at all. They each resolutely go back to the same miserable existances they started out in. I really wanted to like this novel and the characters as I read about them clear to the end of the novel. Unfortunately once I finished the novel, I really didn't like it or any of the characters at all. I'm sorry to say I probably won't be recommending it to anyone I know.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2008

    Many flawed characters makes for interesting read!

    I found that I dislked all the characters in the book, which made it even more interesting. Very interesting read.

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  • Posted November 24, 2008

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    Great!

    One of the best books I have had the oportunity to read in advance. The intriguing narrative and reality of characters linked to some humour and nice vocabulary choices give this book a fluid reading and will to discuss about.

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  • Posted November 23, 2008

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    Smart and Compelling

    This book struck a cord with me. It is a compelling account of a family who when faced with a crisis find their beliefs challenged. The characters struggle with everyday life yet there was humor throughout the story. This was a great book by a great author and I highly recommend it.<BR/><BR/>I also receommend "She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb and The Memory Keeper's daughter by Kim Edwards.

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  • Posted November 21, 2008

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    3 stars

    The beginning of the book starts off interesting, but as it goes on, I found some of the chapters boring. The way that the book is set up is each chapter is about a certain character. One chapter is about character A, the other about B, the other about C, and then back to A, and so on. I found the chapters about one character very boring. I also disliked this character because of her bad attitude all the time. I did not find the book very funny, but some lines did make me giggle. This book is basically about a messed up family that get's even more messed up during the book.

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  • Posted November 21, 2008

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    Intelligent, Witty, and Darkly Funny Satire

    The Believers is an intelligent, witty, darkly funny satirical novel.<BR/><BR/>In 1962, Joel and Audrey were two philanthropic young people who devoted their lives to liberal and socialist ideals. Fast Forward to 2002. After 40 years of marriage and dutiful social awareness, this supposedly altruistic, steadfast, and principled duo has proven to be completely deficient and callous in their own personal interactions ---parenting, marriage, friendship, and communication. They are, laughably, the perfect image of dysfunction and as a result, their children have, each in their own way, become the poster-children for the painful journey to self-actualization¿.and we get to go along for the ride! <BR/><BR/>Well-crafted and compelling, this novel is a testament to whom/what we might become when we aren¿t looking.

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