The Free World Hardcover – Mar 21 2011
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“Bezmozgis overturns our cliched expectations of immigrant idealism . . . Strikingly, he never pretends that his confused, self-interested characters are admirable, virtuous or even likable, but he respects them nonetheless. His book pays tribute to their tenacity and to their sometimes accidental courage . . . Bezmozgis laces even his darkest humor with pathos. While his depictions don’t flatter his subjects, they honor them by conveying each person’s individual history, motivations and truth.”—Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review
“The linked stories of David Bezmozgis’s acclaimed debut collection, Natasha (2004), measured a young Latvian Jew’s life spent as a foreigner in a foreign land—North America—and sketched an ever widening gulf between history and tradition and the immigrant’s Western experience. His perceptive and engaging first novel, The Free World, is anchored a few years earlier than Natasha, in 1978 and records the Krasnansky family’s existence in transit—no longer in the Soviet Union but not yet at its final destination.”—Time
“David Bezmozgis’s debut story collection Natasha, met with the sort of critical reception that even grandiose adolescents are too realistic to expect . . . More recently, The New Yorker included him on the roster every young writer dreams about: its 20 under 40 list, in June 2010. If that final accolade seemed a little much last summer—six years after the release of Bezmozgis’ only book-length work—his new novel, The Free World, makes it seem prescient.”—Slate
“What makes Bezmozgis such a joy to read is his sincerity of tone, his seemingly bottomless empathy. Irony and black humor are inevitable characteristics of prose by writers from the former Soviet Union; they are ingrained in our literature, our very worldview. As young immigrant writers, our knowledge of our community benefits from both an insider’s and outsider’s perspective, but the danger of this observational stance is that potential to turn on our characters, make them comical at the expense of their humanity. Bezmozgis never falls into this trap. His loyalties lie staunchly with his creations, and the absurdities he points out are deeply funny, yet filtered through a mature wisdom.”—The Forward
“Thought-provoking . . . powerfully realized, absorbing, and old-fashioned in satisfying ways.”—The Boston Globe
“Bezmozgis’s keen sensitivity and ability to render human frailty is exquisite. In its most successful moments, The Free World not only localizes the grand drama of shifting, global ideologies but also binds the allegorical to relatable human emotions.”—Time Out New York (4 out of 5 stars)
“[The Free World’s] strength is in the language. Unlike the crisp, tidy prose of Natasha, written in the detached candor of the teenage narrator, the voices of The Free World speak a new Frankenstein tongue, its seams purposefully showing. Though written in English, the dialogue has the distinct rhythm and tone of Russian that has been translated, almost word-for-word, without an interpreter’s laborious task of adjusting for context. As a storytelling device, it’s perfect; it immerses the reader in the Krasnansky’s household and, lest he forget, reminds him that the place he has entered is very Russian—not Russians among Americans, as he may be used to, or even Russians among Italians.”—The New York Observer
“In the past decade, a handful of writers have added compelling twists to the classic immigration novel, adding new and unexpected layers to tales of newcomers in new lands. Jeffrey Eugenides, for example, wrote about a hermaphrodite immigrant in Middlesex; in Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the protagonist had a fantastic imagination and used an unexpected language infused with Spanish and video game slang. Now comes David Bezmozgis’s The Free World, an immigration novel in which the characters don’t actually immigrate . . . Each person in the rambling Krasnansky clan is explored in detail and with keen insight, which Bezmozgis achieves with dazzling manipulations of point-of-view.”—Bookforum
About the Author
DAVID BEZMOZGIS, a writer and filmmaker, was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1973. His first book, Natasha and Other Stories, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (Canada and Caribbean Region), was a New York Times Notable Book for 2004 and was nominated for a Governor General’s Award. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library. Bezmozgis’ first feature film, Victoria Day, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. In 2010, he was named one of The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40.” Bezmozgis lives in Toronto.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The novel contains much political detail: history surrounding the Bolshevik Revolution, the late 1970s status of the Soviet Union and allusions to peace talks between Egypt and Israel. Not, in my opinion, fodder for gripping fiction but Bezmozgis's focus and precise observations allow the story to flow unburdened. Even during moments of little action, when characters brood or reflect on the past, the book moves quickly and maintains the reader's interest.
Despite tinges of melodrama and the occasional skim-able chapter, "The Free World" provides a multi-faceted, genuine and unglorified version of the Jewish immigrant story.
As his vehicle he uses primarily the family Krasnansky - who arrive in a hot Rome in the summer of 1978. They think they are on their way to America as does everyone else of the thousands of émigrés and that they will be welcomed with open arms. Many like Samuil Krasnansky, held important positions back in Riga, he is now levelled more completely than communism ever could to the true ranks of the proletariat. His sons are constantly feuding and scheming as do everyone else. The primary characters are his second son Alec and his wife Polina, they seem to be the weather vane for the families fortunes.
It tells the story of their stay in Rome, and how they eke out a subsistence with dodgy deals, all kinds of deceit and often a helping hand from the refugee organisations. The Russian authorities had been quite generous in letting the Jews go and had given papers to all sorts including refuseniks, dissidents and criminals. This melting pot of political friction, religious ambivalence and criminal tendencies are all explored by Bezmozgis. The lives of each of the characters is explored often by going back to the past to recall what they have been through to bring them to this point, especially the sacrifices and the selfish choices as well as giving into the all too prevalent passions. These continue to haunt and guide them in their present position of being in Rome's waiting room. That is why the Krasnansky's decide on Canada when they are told that the Canadians are not as fussy as the Americans.Read more ›
How cruel of me to start with a complaint. The rest is fine or great. Bezmozgis doesn't blow you away but he does make his job look easy - you never pause to notice his technique as the pages fly by. This is quite welcome in a "literary" novel, whatever that is. There's definitely enough plot here to keep the story within a recognizable structure, but not so much that you'd accuse Bezmozgis of being unfashionably plot-obsessed. This book is consistently like that - enough of certain aspects to make it readable to normal people and enough literary technique to impress the ones who notice and care.
The story itself is about Jews who escape the Soviet Union (Latvia, to be exact) and are putting in time in and near Rome until they can find a country to take them. Alec is an irresponsible playboy, Samuil is the weatherbeaten, unknowable father, and other family members round out the action.
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