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The Free World Paperback – 7 Apr 2011

3.1 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (7 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670920053
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670920051
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.6 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,015,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


A major new talent ... superb (Independent )

Terrific ... In bringing the tribulations of the Krasnanskys in their Roman limbo so vividly to life, Bezmozgis has written a novel that succeeds admirably in combining comic brilliance with a poignant portrait of a family trapped between two worlds (Sunday Times )

Self-assured, elegant and perceptive ... [his] taut 2004 debut collection Natasha and Other Stories suggested that he might well be of those authors' [Philip Roth and Leonard Michaels] caliber; The Free World goes a long way toward confirming this status (The New York Times )

There is a lust for life imbuing his prose - the jokes, the descriptions of faces and kisses and streets and laughter, the sprinkles of Italian, Yiddish and Latvian - making it wonderfully uplifting. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Bezmozgis is one of the most assured new Jewish writers of the century so far (The Times )

David Bezmozgis projects a sense of ease that is very rare in first novels; he does everything well (Telegraph )

A proper novel that bulges and pulses and thrums with life ... I ended up loving it ... The principal tone is wry - mainly comedic, sometimes melancholic, occasionally tragic, ironical, playful, charming ... a rich and occasionally brilliant novel [that] is well worth reading (Observer )

Heavy with the consciousness of time, the inevitability of crises. Bezmozgis has the knack of ending scenes, chapters, especially, at the perfect reverberant moment, plangent or ironic (Guardian )

Colourful, sharply funny and deeply moving (Financial Times )

Delivered in an understated style which can accommodate serious subtext as well as ironical humour ... His portraits of the family circle are neatly rendered and compassionate ... There is no doubt Bezmozgis remains a writer worth monitoring (Independent on Sunday )

Alternately comic, sharp and sombre ... it's impossible not to be caught up in the tangled web of its unforgettable case (Daily Mail )

A wonderful affirmation of the most novelish kinds of virtues ... Bezmozgis choreographs his work beautifully; with a drip-feed of revelations that humanises the characters and undercuts the reader's partial judgements on them ... A Chekhovian tragicomedy; part heartbreaking farce and part risible melancholy ... Like Gary Shteyngart, [Bezmozgis] is brilliantly able to use the former Cold War enemies as foils to each other. Each side is as bad as the other; and the humans are always caught in the middle of the muddle (Scotsman )

Quietly astonishing fables of unmistakeable brilliance ... Breathtaking (Observer on Natasha and other Stories )

With a maturity and control far beyond his years, Mr Bezmozgis has produced a captivating and impressive debut. The title story itself is one I will never forget (Jeffrey Eugenides )

Passionately full of life ... his literary skills [are] remarkable (James Wood London Review of Books )

He is being described as the new Philip Roth, the new Chekhov ... the hype may not be entirely exaggerated (Guardian )

Scary good ... Not a line or note in the book rings false (Esquire )

A stunning first collection, characterized by a painful honesty and clarity of vision ... Bezmozgis writes with compassion, quietly reminding us of the hidden beauty within human imperfection (Julie Orringer The Believer )

About the Author

David Bezmozgis was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1973 and emigrated with his parents to Toronto in 1980. His previous book, Natasha and Other Stories, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, was a New York Times Notable Book of the year, won the Commonwealth Writer's Regional Prize for First Book and has been translated into over a dozen languages. In 2010, he was selected as one of the New Yorker's '20 Under 40', celebrating the twenty most promising fiction writers under the age of forty.

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Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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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By Denise4891 TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 17 May 2011
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Free World tells the story of one family who took part in the wave of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union in the 70s. The Krasnanskys have managed to survive the journey from Latvia to Rome, only to find themselves abandoned by their American sponsor and stranded in Italy until they can find another country willing to take them.

The Krasnanskys are a mixed bunch - father Samuil harks back to the idealistic `glory' days of early communism, while his sons Alec and Karl have a much less romantic view of the harsh life they and their wives were forced to lead behind the Iron Curtain, and it's they who have instigated the escape to the `free world'.

The best parts of the book for me were the flashbacks to the characters' earlier lives in Soviet Latvia. With the exception of Samuil the male characters are not very sympathetically portrayed - Alec is an inveterate womaniser and his brother Karl a shady would-be gangster. The female characters come across in a slightly better light.

The year is 1978 and topical issues such as the Middle East peace talks between Begin and Sedat and the deaths of consecutive Popes all get a mention and add to the `period' setting. There are flashes of humour, often centred around misunderstandings between the Krasnanskys and the Italians they come into contact with, which give a sense of how it feels to be a stranger in a strange land.

David Bezmozgis was six years old when his family made a similar journey from Latvia to Canada (though the characters in The Free World are entirely fictional) and presumably he has borrowed some of his family's experiences for the book. I'm glad I had the opportunity to read it.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It is 1978 and Brezhnev’s Soviet Union has at last allowed some Jews to emigrate. The Krasnansky family - Samuil and Emma, their sons Alec and Karl with their respective wives Polina and Rosa, and Karl’s sons Yury and Zhenya - have left Riga (later in the book we learn of their humiliating experience at Chop, the crossing point out of Russia into Slovakia) and have arrived in Rome en route in due course for Chicago. The best-written part of the book, at the beginning, describes their lives in the grotty hotel in which the HIAS (the American Hebrew Immigration Aid Society) temporarily accommodated them, together with a host of other emigrants. Samuil had been a Soviet official there back home, still thought of himself as a communist, was anti-Zionist and resented having become an emigrant and is unpleasant to all the family. Alec and Polina don’t get on with Karl and Rosa. The novel describes all this in a sadly comic way.

The Chicago plan fell through, and they now hoped to get to Canada. (Bezmozgis’ own family had emigrated there from Riga in 1980.) Alec and Polina rented a room from an Israeli in Trastevere, the other members of the family found lodgings in Ladispoli, on the coast outside Rome. A Russian-Jewish community develops, some of its aspects, to Samuil’s disgust, have a religious and Zionist character, and he feels very much an outsider. In outdoor markets Alec and Carl sell stuff they have brought for this purpose from Riga. Carl gets involved in some dubious activities. Among the emigrants are ex-convicts whom the Soviet Union had been glad to get rid of, and very nasty and violent people they are.

A great part of the book consists of the characters thinking back to the lives, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood, they had had back at home.
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