Timely novel The Betrayers is One Bay One Book pick

More on “The Betrayers”:

The biggest challenge in book clubs usually comes down to agreeing on a title the entire group will enjoy reading: One person votes for a bestselling novel, someone else wants a wrenching memoir and others clamor for history or humor.

“The process is painful!” said Howard Freedman, director of the Jewish Community Library and head of the yearlong One Bay One Book program. “We have a committee that reads a lot of books and tries to select one that will foster the highest-quality discussion.”

The Bay Area–wide program, now in its third year, brings together readers of all ages and backgrounds who talk about the selected book and use its themes to launch into more expansive conversations. “The biggest value is not the act of reading, but the act of discussing,” Freedman said.

One Bay One Book has chosen “The Betrayers,” a new novel by David Bezmozgis about an Israeli politician and former refusenik who flees to Crimea under political pressure. There he comes face to face with a man who had denounced him to the KGB decades before.

The kickoff event, with Bezmozgis in conversation with Zoetrope All-Story editor Michael Ray, takes place Tuesday, Sept. 30 at the JCC of San Francisco, presented by the JCC as part of its Arts & Ideas series. 

Freedman, who has been involved in One Bay One Book from its inception, believes “The Betrayers” will be of particular interest to readers because of recent events in Ukraine as well as in Gaza.

“The situation in Crimea [annexed by Russia during the Ukrainian conflict] and Israel give a certain currency to the events in the novel. They are both timely and timeless,” he added. “Reconciliation is one of the questions, and it’s a relevant theme at a time when there is hostility. Will we ever be in a place of reconciliation?”

He also expects the book will attract Bay Area readers from among the large community of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

“The fact that this novel turns to the experience of Soviet Jews is very interesting for those for whom this was part of their lives,” Freedman said. “It also gives us a chance to look at recent events that we will ultimately look back at with a different perspective as they become history.”

Last year’s title was Dara Horn’s “A Guide for the Perplexed,” about a young software prodigy who is kidnapped during a trip to Egypt. Freedman estimates that 1,000 readers took part in the program, and this year he expects even more involvement.

“Last year, we had wonderful discussions around Horn’s book, and it led many people to study Maimonides and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Freedman said.

One Bay One Book is sponsored by Jewish LearningWorks and the Jewish Community Library, which is under its aegis. The library engages a diverse crowd through book-group talks, lectures and discussions at the San Francisco facility and elsewhere in the Bay Area.

The program, which runs through May 2015, takes place at multiple venues across the Bay Area, hosted by organizations including JCCs, synagogues and other groups.

Freedman said in the life of the program he has received only “great feedback” from participants. “Even for the people who don’t love the book, there is always good quality discussion.”

One Bay One Book kickoff with David Bezmozgis takes place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30 at the JCCSF, 3200 California St., S.F. $15.


on the cover

illustration/cathleen maclearie

One Bay One Book, the Bay Area–wide reading program, introduces this year’s selection, David Bezmozgis’ novel “The Betrayers,” set in Crimea.