Thursday, July 19, 2012

Informal Book Review: Kurt Andersen's True Believers

Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio D

"Ours was a cult based on our narcissistic love 
of our beautiful young American selves 
and hatred of the horrible American pod people 
callously killing millions. As with the Muslim cult of hate 
embodied for a while by Osama bin Laden, 
and as with the worst and nuttiest of the new American haters, 
ours was a nihilism that fancied itself utopian. 
On the spectrum of self-righteous madness, 
we were somewhere between lunatic Islamists 
and the lunatic American right-wingers."
Kurt Andersen, True Believers

This book is too good, too smart, to explain in an ordinary book review.

Maybe that's why I've put off writing this review for so long.

True Believers, published by Random House, was released on July 7, 2012. 
I received this book through LibaryThing's Early Readers program, well in advance of this book's publication date. I finished reading it well before that date, and since then my notes have languished on my desk while I avoided revisiting this book. Maybe I was savoring what I had read. Maybe I was intimidated by the breadth and cultural significance of this book. Or... maybe I was lazy. 

Kurt Andersen's latest novel escapes a simple definition. This fictional memoir, chronicling the dramatic secret life of the "trustworthy" (she assures us) Karen Hollaender, is a trip. It's a piece of social commentary; it's a mystery; it's an assortment of coming-of-age stories; it's one hell of a drama; it's a piece of 21st century activist writing; it's a collage of American popular culture that envelops the reader as Karen Hollaender as she leaps off the page and guides you through her many worlds.

Andersen's sharp social commentary is disguised as an easy stroll through the 1960s and early 1970s. His sharp, masterfully-developed female lead grabs hold of the spotlight as her secrets begin to unfurl. Writing her memoir in the near future of the spring of 2013, Karen Hollaender recounts her teenage years in greater Chicago. Andersen references popular culture icons like Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and the Weather Underground to paint a vibrant picture for the reader. A seemingly ordinary childhood leads to an increasingly radical adolescence, culminating in some truly shocking behaviors in college, when Hollaender and her idealistic peers slide further and further into their own dangerous secrets. 

Do any of these following topics interest you? 
If so, read this book.

The American experience.
The radical sub-culture of college-aged activists in the early 1970s.
Assassination conspiracies.
Living life consciously.
The corporate machine.
The Mass Media machine.
Kennedy and LBJ.
Occupy Wallstreet, the Arab Spring and the near future of American politics.
Memory, Hate, Love and Neuroscience.
Living in this Information Age and its repercussions.

Reading True Believers made me paranoid about distinguishing between what is the truth, and what is merely presented as the truth. This, I am sure, would please the author. Andersen's novel deals with false appearances and the real world which lies beneath what has been constructed for society's consumption. 

While reading this novel, the differences between post-Kennedy American and post-9/11 America became far more clear. There's a huge difference between Vietnam-era America and the America in which I came of age.  We have more information than ever, and it's constantly shoved in our faces, but it's not REAL. We are provided with a mind-numbing assortment of statistics, diagrams, maps and opinions. Very rarely do we see actual footage of what's happening by our hand, around the world. Instead, we are fed the news by a rotating cast of clean, caffeinated talking heads who tell us what to think, giving us BOTH, not ALL sides of the story. Virtual reality is far more comfortable, so it has become the norm.

I cannot successfully explain the greatness this book is in one measly blog post. I can, however, tell you that I recommend this book to you, reader, if you are a  person who hungers for something more cognitively occupying than the latest reality TV show. This book will remind you that we a shape our own realities with the choices we make and the things we consume and the lenses we peer through.

"Don't assume you're powerless. 
That's what they count on."
Kurt Andersen, True Believers


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