The Believers

The Believers

by Zoe Heller
3.7 60

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Believers 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 59 reviews.
KCSullivan More than 1 year ago
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.
wendyroba More than 1 year ago
'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-

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.

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.

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.

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.

Recommended.
katknit More than 1 year ago
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.

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.
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piesmom More than 1 year ago
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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sarali2 More than 1 year ago
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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BridgetIA More than 1 year ago
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.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Sweetbabyj58 More than 1 year ago
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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harstan More than 1 year ago
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.

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.

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.

Harriet Klausner
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marciliogq More than 1 year ago
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.
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.
rosemaryb More than 1 year ago
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.