Summer, 1978. Brezhnev sits like a stone in the Kremlin, Israel and Egypt are inching toward peace, and in the bustling, polyglot streets of Rome, strange new creatures have appeared: thousands of Soviet Jews who have escaped to freedom through a crack in the Iron Curtain. Among the thousands who have landed in Italy to secure visas for new lives in the West are the members of the Krasnansky family — three generations of Russian Jews.
There is Samuil, an old communist and Red Army veteran, who reluctantly leaves the country to which he has dedicated himself body and soul; Karl, his eldest son, a man eager to embrace the opportunities emigration affords; his younger son, Alec, a carefree playboy for whom life has always been a game; and Polina, Alec’s new wife, who has risked the most by breaking with her old family to join this new one. Together, they will spend six months in Rome — their way station and purgatory. They will immerse themselves in the carnival of emigration, an Italy rife with love affairs and ruthless hustles, with dislocation and nostalgia, with the promise and peril of a better life. In the unforgettable Krasnansky family, Bezmozgis has created an intimate portrait of a tumultuous era.
Written in precise, musical prose, The Free World is a stunning début novel, a heartfelt multigenerational saga of great historical scope and even greater human depth. Enlarging on the themes of aspiration and exile that infused his first collection, Natasha and Other Stories, The Free World establishes Bezmozgis as one of our most mature and accomplished storytellers. – Publishers Website
I wasn’t exactly sure when I received this book that I was going to like it, I don’t think anyone does right?
I wasn’t disappointed. David begins the story in 1978, when hoards of Soviets are leaving the country they have known all their lives to begin new. Where do they want to go? – America, Canada, anywhere where they wouldn’t have to be downtrodden. They want a better future for their families, to begin again after so much has happened.
They first land in Italy, where the process of moving to a new country is started. They meet some characters who are doing the same thing. This family has gone through so much, as have the other people who are leaving their homeland for new places, people and things. As time goes on in Italy, they meet up with people they have known before, their stories as telling as their own – the sacrifices, the abuse, the hilarity of it all. Just attempting to get where they want to be, how long it will take them. They go on to find whatever normalcy they can. I too am from a family whose family has left the Ukraine for a better life. I wanted to read this book to perhaps get a glimpse into what my Grand Parents had to overcome to be able to come to Canada – for a better life, a new beginning.
I was impressed with how the book was written – with deep introspection into the life they had, with what they will experience in the future. The plans in place, the ones that aren’t. They take things as they come, fostering new friends, solidifying old ones as they wait for their Visa’s. Moving itself is a very stressful thing to do, but even moving from one country to another much more stressful. The author writes as if he is there in the middle of it, experiencing it as we all read along with him as he writes. As you could say – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly all wrapped into one. I quite enjoyed it.
The Free World was a finalist in the 2011 Governor General’s Literary Awards, and was shortlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.