12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
"My existence will be the same wherever we go." So asserts patriarch Samuil Krasnansky, a Red Army veteran who views emigration from Soviet-controlled Latvia not as a chance at freedom but as evidence of his own demise. David Bezmozgis sets his debut novel in Rome, a rest stop between two worlds, where Samuil, his wife, his sons and daughters-in-law, and his two grandchildren, await visas to travel to North America. Outsiders in their homeland, the family members now sit in limbo on the fringes of Italian society, juggling the hopes and the dangers inherent in "The Free World."
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.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
This is the debut novel of Russian/Canadian David Bezmozgis. It tells a part of the story of the Russian, Jewish, émigrés that were allowed to leave the ongoing revolution of the Soviet and go to the `free world'.
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.
The narrative is taken forward most of the time through dialogue and it has a fluid style that is both engaging and accessible. Some may be concerned at the breadth of characters that are included, as there are more than most, but that is a very Russian trait anyway and I did not find it a problem as it added to the flavours of the stories; everyone has some importance. There are some great little stories within all of this and I must say I found it a compelling and rewarding read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
My sole complaint about this book is that everything's a a bit lifeless and distant. I'm not entirely convinced that this is about real characters.
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Writing about the trails and tribulations of émigrés is a an overexploited subject matter, one that has propelled some writers to great heights and condemned many more to the world of clichéd stories and characters. Bezmozgis rises above the usual boundaries of conflicting old v new world, culture shock and generation gaps. He does so by bringing us consistently credible characters, with a richness of diverse viewpoints and takes on life. He is absolutely non-judgemental about his characters, allowing us into their lives to draw our own conclusions. This is a very human story, moving, neatly crafted and that will stay with you for a while.