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The Free World: A Novel Hardcover – March 29, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (March 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374281408
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374281403
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #891,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bezmozgis follows his well-received Natasha and Other Stories with a meticulous study of the capricious spaces between historical certainties. First, there's the gap that allows the Krasnansky family to flee Soviet Latvia in the late 1970s for the edge of Rome, where a population of Jewish refugees contemplate their chances of emigrating to Canada, America, or Australia while awaiting news of Israel's peace with Egypt amid widespread anti-Zionism. Then there's the generational gap between the Krasnansky patriarch, unreconstructed Communist Samuil, who only reluctantly leaves the bloc he fought and sacrificed for, and his somewhat profligate sons, Alec and Karl, keen to snatch up the opportunities—sexual, financial, and criminal—that the West affords. And finally there is the growing distance between Alec and his wife, Polina, who is fleeing an ex-husband and a scandalous abortion. Bezmozgis displays an evenhanded verisimilitude in dealing with a wide variety of cold war attitudes, and though the unremitting seriousness of his tone makes for some slow patches, the book remains an assured, complex social novel whose relevance will be obvious to any reader genuinely curious about recent history, the limits of love, and the unexpected burdens that attend the arrival of freedom. (Apr.)
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Review

“Self-assured, elegant, and perceptive. . . [Bezmozgis] has created an unflinchingly honest, evenhanded and multilayered retelling of the Jewish immigrant story that steadfastly refuses to sentimentalize or malign the Old World or the New. Sholem Aleichem might well feel proud. And perhaps so too might Philip Roth and Leonard Michaels.”—Adam Langer, The New York Times

“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

 
“Polina has somewhat fecklessly left her devoted, upright husband for Alec, a smooth-talking womanizer now eyeing a teenage girl. Responsible older brother Karl has big dreams but helps the family survive by getting involved in a shady business. Family patriarch Samuil, who still mourns a brother lost in World War II, remains firmly secular even as his wife drifts toward the family’s Jewish heritage. Sounds like your typical family problems, but the Krasnanskys are Soviet Jews who have fled to the West (it’s 1978), and the miracle of this debut novel is how effectively Bezmozgis (Natasha: And Other Stories) captures both the family’s recognizable tensions and the particular difficulties of the Soviet émigré experience. Staunch Communist Samuil, for instance, contravened his convictions to emigrate and remain with his family, while Polina will never see hers again. Having opted not to go to Israel, the Krasnanskys find themselves in Rome, struggling to arrange visas to the United States or Canada. Bezmozgis fills their wait with carefully nuanced anguish and, yes, hope.VERDICT Bezmozgis proves why he was recently proclaimed one of The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40; this is mellifluous, utterly captivating writing, and you’ll live with the Krasnansky family as if it were your own. Highly recommended.” Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
 
“Bezmozgis makes good on the promise of his celebrated first book, Natasha and Other Stories (2004), in his spectacular first novel. Sharply funny and fast-paced, yet splendidly saturated with intriguing psychological nuance and caustic social commentary, The Free World follows a contentious Latvian Jewish family as they join the chaotic exodus of Soviet Jews in 1978. In the brilliantly ensnaring opening scene, set in a teeming train station, we meet the very different brothers Krasnansky. Handsome and seductive Alec, scandalously married to beautiful and non-Jewish Polina, has an eye for luscious females that will prove catastrophic, while dutiful husband and father of two Karl is aggressively muscled, gruff, and fiercely pragmatic. Samuil, their father, proud of his military bearing and service, remains a loyal Socialist, disdainful of weakness and sentiment. Hoping to settle in America, the Krasnanskys end up stuck in Rome for the summer, poor, crowded into shabby rooms, and maddened by byzantine and corrupt bureaucracy. As they struggle to survive this baffling limbo, they are deluged with memories and become entangled in a casually brutal criminal underworld. Bezmozgis infuses every scene with prismatic significance, covering an astonishing swath of Jewish and Soviet history, immigrant traumas, sexual drama, and family angst. A brilliantly ironic and beautifully human novel of exile and yearning.”Donna Seaman, Booklist
 
 
 

More About the Author

David Bezmozgis is an award-winning writer and filmmaker. David's stories have appeared in numerous publications including The New Yorker, Harpers, Zoetrope All-Story, and The Walrus. His first book, Natasha and Other Stories, was published in 2004 in the US and Canada and was subsequently translated into fifteen languages. Natasha was a New York Times Notable Book, one of the New York Public Library's 25 Books to Remember for 2004, and an Amazon.com Top 10 Book for 2004. Natasha was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award (UK), the LA Times First Book Award (US), and the Governor General's Award (Canada). It won the Toronto Book Award and the Commonwealth Writer's Prize for First Book.

He has been a performer at The New Yorker Festival (2005 & 2009), The UCLA Armand Hammer Museum (2007), and the Luminato Festival (2008). His work has been broadcast on NPR, BBC, and the CBC, and his stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2005 & 2006.

In 2006, David was a screenwriting fellow at the Sundance Labs where he developed his first feature, Victoria Day. The film premiered in competition at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, had a theatrical release in Canada, and received a Genie Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

In the summer of 2010, David was included in The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 issue, celebrating the twenty most promising fiction writers under the age of forty.

David has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a MacDowell Fellow, and a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library. In the fall of 2011, he will be a fellow at the Harvard/Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

The Free World, David's first novel, was published in April 2011 in the U.S. Canada, the UK, and Holland. Subsequent translations will appear in Germany, Italy, France, Israel and Spain.

Born in Riga, Latvia, David immigrated to Toronto with his parents in 1980.

Customer Reviews

Bezmozgis' story opens in 1978 with the arrival of the Krasnansky family in Rome.
Morris Massel
To state that "The Free World" is a beautifully written, poignant, engaging book is to understate its brilliance.
Keith A. Comess
And I just didn't really get what was going on with some of the stories lines, especially at the end.
Jonathan Robbins

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Morris Massel on April 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Many books have been written about the immigrant experience: the need to leave a land, the difficulty of assimilating into a new culture and the challenge of preserving identity. David Bezmogis, a New Yorker 20 Under 40, uses his new and first novel, The Free World, to tackle the story of the Soviet Jews.

The Soviet Jews that were released in the 1960s and 1970s could not travel directly to Israel or the US. Often, they stopped over in Vienna or Rome en route to the free world. The stop over could take days, weeks and even months. Bezmozgis' story opens in 1978 with the arrival of the Krasnansky family in Rome. The familial patriarch, Samuil, is an old Communist and Red Army veteran, who reluctantly leaves his home and life. His wife, Emma, reconnected with her spiritual heritage in the Soviet Union. Although she is only a supporting character, she displays a sharp understanding of her family and their problems. Their eldest and pragmatic son, Karl, arrives with his wife and two boys. His muscled physique and opportunistic outlook lead him into the underworld of Rome. The younger son, Alec, a bon vivant and womanizer, arrives in Rome, with his new, scandalously acquired bride, Polina.

The family tries to find its way through the maddening bureaucratic maze of Rome, while struggling to survive and understand why they left. On the way, they find other former Soviet Jews and develop interesting connections. Throughout the novel, Bezmozgis takes us back into the characters' colorful histories, developing who they are and why they left.

Bezmozgis was born in Latvia. Like Gary Shteyngart (Super Sad True Love Story and Absuridstan), Bezmozgis's writing is biting and sharp witted.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The price of freedom comes at a great cost, as illustrated in this wry and acerbic novel of three generations of Soviet Jews who languish in limbo at a pension in Rome in 1978. They have come to this veritable weigh station with all their belongings, dreams and desires, to emigrate to freedom and assimilate in a new land. David Bezmozgis's debut novel reflects a rich repository of knowledge-- he is a Latvian Jew who emigrated to Canada in 1973. He understands the immigrant experience personally, and has used his history slyly and knowingly to create a fictional story that speaks volumes of truth.

The Krasnansky family consists of elderly patriarch Samuil, an ardent Jewish atheist and passionate Communist, his devoted wife, Emma, his two sons Alec and Karl, their respective wives, Rosa and Polina (the only non-Jewish family member), and Karl and Rosa's two children. They have come from Riga, Latvia, in the hope of emigrating to Chicago, but their hopes are dashed by relative (literally) circumstances. Now they are émigrés, waiting for visas to Canada, but the family can't readily agree on this bastion of democracy, a place described as similar in climate to their homeland. Additionally, Samuil's precarious health is slowing up the process of obtaining their papers.

Samuil mourns for his Red Army years, and spends his days in Rome isolated emotionally from his family, writing his memoirs. He befriends a one-legged violinist and Ukrainian army veteran whose beliefs are in opposition to his, but is able to reach an understanding and even a poignant intimacy with Josef. He growls at his laconic sons--Alec's self-indulgent, roving eye, and Karl's swift and sordid mercenary involvement with the underworld of Rome.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Tommy Dooley TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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.
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