True Believers is a book for boomers, the generation that came of age in the 1960’s, a turbulent time of political unrest in America. There were protests against the seemingly endless war in Southeast Asia. There were assassinations of public figures. Some of the protests were violent, as were the responses from law enforcement. And it all came to a head in 1968.
Many of us who lived through that time did things we later had reason to regret. But here we are, 45 years later in 2013. We survived the 1960’s. But even now, a few of us have something to hide. Karen Hollander would prefer that 1968 be forgotten. A successful attorney and one-time supreme court nominee, Karen has a lot to lose if what she did that year ever comes to light. True Believers alternates between the present and the past. Author Kurt Andersen brings it all back vividly evoking JFK, LBJ, MLK, RFK, Malcolm X and so many other colorful characters of that time.
In this novel, we also meet the teenage Karen along with her friends Alex and Chuck. It’s all innocent enough at first. The friends are fans of James Bond of the Ian Fleming books, not the movies which they regard as reactionary. They act out adventures with Fleming’s villains Sir Hugo Drax and Rosa Klebb or Bond’s CIA friend Felix Leiter. Then our young heroine actually stages some secret agent capers in public. It seems harmless at first, but they eventually plan an action that will profoundly alter world events.
No, I’m not going to tell you what they wanted to do in 1968. But here in 2013, Karen has written a memoir of those times which has the potential to ruin a lot of lives, including her own. Should she go ahead with it? Will publication of her book ultimately lead to her arrest? It isn’t giving away too much to say that just about all the characters in True Believers spy on and eventually betray each other. In the parlance of the time, they all “sell out” to the establishment,
Kurt Andersen hosts Public Radio International and WNYC’s Studio 360. He has written two previous novels. And, yes, True Believers is fiction. For most of its considerable length, the novel’s tone is light, almost comical. Karen is a truly likable character faced with a serious dilemma. And for boomers, the author brings the troubled decade of the 1960’s back in painstaking and often painful detail. The historical trivia takes up a lot of space in True Believers, but I kept turning the pages — and so will you. – Dan Erwine
Other titles available by Kurt Andersen: Heyday; Turn of the Century; The Real Thing; Fields of Vision: The Photographs of John Vachon; Reset;