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A novel that bridges the generation gap

Created date

September 25th, 2012

Could a generation who spent their formative years watching black and white television and sharing a single telephone number with their entire family possibly share common ground with today s techno-addled youth? In Kurt Andersen s novel True Believers (Random House), the answer is a resounding yes. Andersen, host of the Peabody-winning public radio program Studio 360 and a frequent television commentator, tells the story of Karen Hollander, a 65-year-old diabetic grandmother and die-hard James Bond fan who came of age in the 1960s. Over martinis at the Hay-Adams hotel in Washington, D.C., Karen s friend describes her as Hillary on the outside and Bill on the inside. As a student at Radcliff, Karen was actively involved in the passionate anti-war protests erupting on campuses everywhere. Later, she became a star attorney, rising to the pinnacle of her profession when her name is placed on the short list of possible Supreme Court justices. True Believers focuses on why Karen removed her name from that list. Karen mentally reconstructs the turbulent events of her youth as she writes her memoir, a book she is certain will shock the public and perhaps even land her in jail. As she says, For those first three months of 1968, we embodied that part of the American character that has troubled and scared me ever since. Looking back, she recognizes that her youthful social awakening was neither unique nor limited to individuals. In fact, her experience merely echoed what the nation as a whole was going through. Of course, the fact that puberty and the 1960s were kicking in at precisely the same moment was synergistic, she says, each made the other seem more remarkable and important to me, the millions of mes, and to millions of confounded adults.

Intergenerational connection

The only person Karen shares her work in progress with is her 17-year-old granddaughter Waverly. While Karen and Waverly are literally miles apart (Karen lives in Los Angeles while Waverly is in Manhattan), it soon becomes clear that strength and a keen sense of justice runs in the bloodline. Waverly is heavily involved in an occupy-like uprising and even asks her beloved grandmother to chaperone a protest excursion to Miami. Anderson moves fluidly between the 1960s and the near future (the story takes place in 2014), and it s interesting to see how the span of 50 years impacts her point of view. It s also refreshing to see an older person with a chronic illness who is neither needy nor showing signs of slowing down. In fact, as Karen says, around the age of 60, I got a second wind. WithTrue Believers, Andersen shows that while the issues that incite people to protest change from generation to generation, the commitment to make the world a more just and democratic place does