Saturday, May 11, 2013

True Believers by Kurt Andersen

As Karen Hollander enters her sixties, she contacts her publisher about writing her autobiography.  She is certain that the offer will be taken; she is a successful attorney, spent time in government and public service, was one of the best corporate lawyers, and now teaches at a prestigious university.  She was even on the shortlist to be nominated for the Supreme Court.  Karen has definitely led an interesting life, one that the publisher nor her public image would ever support.  She sees this book as her confession about a time in her life when she did something so outrageous that she has lived her life since expecting retribution. 

Karen was a teenager in the sixties.  Raised in a small town outside Chicago, she spent a normal life with school, friends, liberal parents.  Her two best friends were Chuck Levy and Alex Mcallister.  They were brought together by a shared love of all things James Bond.  They read all the books, saw the movies, and even went on pseudo-missions they made up.  But the times were changing.  The sixties brought a radical change to the United States.  Integration and civil rights were in the news.  The Vietnam War was raging, and the coverage it got led to massive disillusionment with the government.  It was the age of the hippie, and the free sex, drugs and rock and roll that accompanied that lifestyle.   

When Karen, Chuck and Alex all went East to college (Karen to Radcliffe, the guys to Harvard), they became more and more radicalized.  Chuck’s roommate, Buzz, joined their group.  As a Vietnam vet, he had plenty of information to stir up their sympathies with the antiwar protestors.  There were protests against everything, big business, big government, big society telling others how to live.  As the group moved further into the radical left, they decided on a plan to carry out an action; an action that brought tragedy and that they would spend the rest of their lives trying to make up for. 

Kurt Andersen has written a compelling history of the Sixties and the seismic changes that occurred in society.  He does an excellent job writing from Karen’s viewpoint, that of a liberal woman who has achieved everything she set out to do in life, but who is tormented by a short period in her life when the choices she made had consequences she had not anticipated.  This book is recommended for those who lived through the Sixties and those interested in reading about such an influential era. 

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