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The Free World

3.32 of 5 stars 3.32  ·  rating details  ·  1,192 ratings  ·  191 reviews
Summer, 1978. Brezhnev sits like a stone in the Kremlin, Israel and Egypt are inching towards peace, and in the bustling, polyglot streets of Rome, strange new creatures have appeared: 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 Kra ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published March 29th 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 1st 2011)
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I’m not putting any stars up on this book; I don’t think it’s fair since I could not go on with it. I listened to most of the audio book before I lost the will to live. I decided to give up with 3 hours left because life is short and there are so many good books out there……but I tried, I really did.

I was so bored with this. It’s about some people, not sure who was who, emigrating from the Soviet Union to the U.S. and Canada via Rome. It was so mundane.

It went something like this…..

Boris: Paulina
Brilliant social novel, a pleasure to read.

Excellent development of the characters and their motivations.

Again I am liking a book about characters (some of them) that are not really admirable, or likable, but who deserve respect for their choices, their tenacity and strength nonetheless.

Bezmozgis elegant writing mixed with the darkest humor and poetic prose are unparalleled at this time...

The best editorial review was from Publishers Weekly:

"the book remains an assured, complex social novel who
Patrick McCoy
David Bezmozgis' latest novel The Free World is a finely crafted story about a Latvian family that is attempting to emigrate to a western country in 1978, but must first get accepted by a country while they wait in a kind of purgatory in Rome. The family is made up of the patriarch and matriarch and their two sons and their families. Both sons are married, but one has two children and the other is a newly wed. On the surface it doesn't seems as though much happens in the novel, but there are two ...more

How many people do you know are real heroes? I bet not that many. So why do I want a book to have at least one or two characters that I admire? Well, the book gets kind of depressing otherwise. Why bother reading, all I have to do is turn on the television or look out my window to see the ordinary.

In the beginning I was very much enjoying the humor, then I got tired of and annoyed at the characters. I didn't learn really any history from this book either. I did learn one thing, how
Jayne Charles
The summary on the back cover led to me to suppose this was a lighter read than it was. Intelligent and insightful, I found it quite a harrowing read, delving into the past lives of its characters, Soviet refugees looking to start a new life in the West. As the story begins they have arrived in Rome, that city intended as a brief stopover as they make their way to America. However events get in the way of their plans and they find themselves stuck in Italy for the foreseeable. As they find homes ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
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, as he is a Latvian Jew who emigrated to Canada in 1973. He understands the immigrant experience personall ...more
The Free World is the destination for the Krasnansky family from Riga, U.S.S.R. Not from Riga, Republic of Latvia as it is today, but from Riga 1978. Three generations of Russian Jews: Father, Mother, two sons, two daughters-in-law and two grandsons have gotten sponsorship from cousin Shura in Chicago and are just about to arrive in Italy when the novel begins. Once in Italy a serious hiccup in the endless paperwork and luggage juggling that the Krasnansky family has been enduring endangers the ...more
Sometimes freedom is another word for nothing left to lose but often, it’s the act of rediscovering what it means to truly be free. The Krasnanskys – a family of Latvian Jews– have chosen to give up a complex and familiar past to strike out for an uncertain future and, like other Soviet immigrants, must spend months in Rome waiting to secure their visas. At the book’s opening, they are in limbo: abandoned by their sponsor, waiting to break free from bureaucratic red tape so they can continue the ...more
Seven years ago, I bought a plane ticket to somewhere new, packed 20 kilos of clothes and a laptop, and left the country. Just like that, I became an immigrant, met another one, and now our children are first-generation Brits (even though none of their multiple passports are British ones just yet). What makes for a good story to tell your grandchildren was really just a mix of boredom with the motherland and ample opportunities for EU citizens to live, work and produce offspring wherever they li ...more
There are some really great moments in this book, some of them laugh out loud funny or incredibly quirky, and I really like that it doesn't simply anything, but it just didn't hold together as a cohesive text for me. Part of my lack of enthusiasm for it might have been due to the fact that I had just read arguably Dickens' and Hemingway's best books. Having said that, I would read his next book to see where he goes from here as an artist.

Samuel's story was very engaging and the fact that he adh
This is an interesting novel of emigration, specifically Soviet Jews, who are allowed to exit Russia during a thaw. The author writes well, especially when describing the world of immgrants in Italy. He shows their confusions and adjustments through one multigerational family which lets the reader feel the experience more deeply.
I think what's most surprising is to move through the familiar setting of Rome from a different perspective. The traffic, the markets, the monuments: all feel different
I am really not sure how to rate this book. I admit that I knew nothing about the Soviet Union allowing Jews to emigrate in the late 1970s. The story is about the time an extended Jewish family spends in Italy until they are approved to emigrate to Canada. The story is told from the viewpoints of three characters: Samuel, the father; Alec, the youngest son; and Polina, Alec's wife. The first half of the book is very slow. But it was necessary to build up the stories of the three primary characte ...more
I thought this book had great promise but was disappointed with the needed another two chapters. Felt like a second book fell into the last chapter...and it didn't fit..or at least it wasn't a satisfactory " conclusion"
Endearing at times because this is the same way all Russian immigrants came before the early 90s including my family. It gets three stars for the little bit of nostalgic/childhood memory that it brings back and because it's such an easy read. As far as immigrant experience accounts go, this is one of the weaker ones and feels a little bit superficial. It gives off the impression of being an unfinished work, like an outline to build on. There were a lot of times when he would describe an experien ...more
I agree with the average of 3.3 stars for this book, but the system doesn't allow half stars. I won't give the book "full marks" primarily because it's a bit hard understanding the story line if you are not familiar with the history of the Soviet Union and Latvia, life in a communist country, and the history of Jews in the Soviet Union. Even with some knowledge, I still needed to look up some things, such as when Latvia was invaded by the Soviet Union, to follow the time line.

On the other hand,
The book starts as the Krasnansky family leaves Vienna for Rome. It is 1978 and they are among the Soviet Jews given permission to leave the Soviet Union. Their journey started in Riga (when Latvia was part of the Soviet Union). They are being aided by a Jewish organization that is assisting the Jews allowed to leave with getting permission to resettle in such countries as Israel, Australia, Canada, and the United States. The top news story concerns the Egyptian - Israeli peace treaty.

The patri
Absolutely one of the best books I've read in a long time, with all the right ingredients: a story about a time and a place and a people I knew nothing about (Jewish Russian emigrants waiting in Rome in 1978 for a country to accept them); a lack of romanticism or sentimentality; and writing that never hit a wrong note. Pepper that with a feckless hero and the author's wry sense of humor, and you've got a great read.
I so wanted to like this book, but I had to give up on it due to boredom. I had the same problem with Bezmogis' previous book, a series of linked stories. There is a dryness to this author's writing that is astounding. What could be more fascinating than immigrant stories? Instead Bezmogis presents a dry, sordid world of discomfort - probably true as far as it goes- but it doesn't go far enough. At least in the part I read.
I ended up really getting into this one. I don't think it was the subject matter particularly as much as it was the humanness of the characters that Bezmosgis manages to capture and convey. The prose is thick and full of digression, but it moves forward really well despite that. It just is the sort of writing that feels really good to read and plugs you right into the fallible but human parts of the characters.
While I found David Bezmozgis's debut novel, The Free World, to be a beautifully written, vivid, and interesting tale of the Soviet Jewish immigrant experience, I found this book challenging to get into. Unable to pinpoint why that might be, I turned to the internet to see if perhaps someone else could articulate a good reason for this, given that the book isn't a particularly challenging read. And, of course, the internet did not disappoint:

Bezmozgis’s background as a short story writer is in
Carol Catinari
A good read... family sage about Russian emigres leaving at the end of the 70s. They're in Italy, holding pattern to find out where they will permanently relocate. Interesting characters, I particularly liked Samuil, the patriarch. And nicely written. I'd say, a 3.5 rating.
An intimate portrait of transition, of relationships breaking and strengthening, of family reaching to protect and love. Bezmozgis is an extremely talented writer and this book was an absolute pleasure to read.
I had no idea that in order to gain a visa and passport to continue their migration, Russian emigres had to wait in limbo in a staging area in Ladispoli, Italy, for their documents. This could take anywhere from weeks to months to more than one year. Displacement, short-term assimilation, fear, family connections, and the scars of the past are exhaled throughout the pages.

Bezmozgis' insight on the emigre experience was depicted quite astutely. I felt that the historical aspect was compelling and
Daniel Kukwa
This is the type of story that generates huge sympathy from any reader (like myself) with an Eastern European background. It's also a powerful tale of a family dealing with monumental change that has ripped them from everything they knew and understood, unprepared for how powerful change can be. Poignancy flows from this book like syrup, particularly from the character of Lyova -- one of the best examples of understated, elegant characterization that I have encountered in some time. This wasn't ...more
short listed for Canada's Giller Prize, this novel has gotten quite a bit of attention. i can see why. David Bezmozgis is a skilled writer. an intelligent writer. he knows how to construct a story. he knows how to make complex characters and he knows how to be both harsh and forgiving to his characters. i think what i found most harsh were Bezmozgis's descriptions of the chasms between the generations. between the sexes. some of the interactions, the descriptions of distain between husbands and ...more
I discovered this book via the Shadow Giller Prize jury: Kevin from Canada, Kim from Reading Matters and Trevor from the Mookse and the Gripes, and I bought it because I’m interested in all things Russian this year.

The novel is only indirectly about Russia: it’s about the Krasnansky family emigrating from the Soviet Union, and their sojourn in Rome. The story is set in the 1970s when, in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War, there was a sharp increase in Jewish emigration from the pro-Arab Soviet Un
Steven Langdon
I especially enjoyed "The Free World," by David Bezmozgis -- a multi-generational saga of Latvian Jews moving into exile from the Soviet Union in 1978, coping with the disequilibrium of refugee life in Italy, and jumping through the official hoops to get immigration entry into Canada. The characters are vividly drawn, complicated and challenged by the intense tensions of leave-taking and uncertain futures. Their interactions over six months make for a compelling read, against a backdrop of Israe ...more
Lynn Harnett
Bezmozgis, born in Riga, Latvia, in 1973, centers this darkly humorous novel on the close-knit, irascible Krasnansky family as they emigrate from Soviet Latvia in 1978, joining the flood of Russian Jews seeking a better life elsewhere. Their way-station on this way to peace and plenty in Canada, America, Australia, Israel – somewhere – is Rome.

There are six adult Krasnanskys and two children. Battle-scarred Samuil, revolutionary and staunch communist, is the literal founder of the Krasnansky dyn
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 cou
John Hanson
This is an important story, historically. We in the west have our long term media-fed views of Russians but no authentic commentary, really. This book tells the story of Russian-Jewish emigrants and their hardships. I add a star for significance because it helped me read it. I felt its importance and wanted more.

I remove two stars for a few things. The story feels flimsy for a novel. It reads like a long short story where the setup is already understood and we experience the poignant character a
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Jewish Book Carnival: Open Letter to Moderator-Editor 7 35 May 04, 2013 12:31PM  
CBC Books: 2011 Giller - The Free World by David Bezmozgis 1 12 Oct 05, 2011 05:52AM  
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  • The Crooked Maid
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  • Monoceros
  • Barnacle Love
  • This Cake Is for the Party: Stories
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  • Light Lifting
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Born in Riga, Latvia, Bezmozgis moved to Canada when he was six. He attended McGill University and then received his MFA from USC's School of Cinema-Television. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, and Zoetrope. In 2010 he was chosen by The New Yorker as one of the best 20 writers under 40.
More about David Bezmozgis...
Natasha and Other Stories The Betrayers: A Novel The Mechanics' Institute Review. Issue 4, Autumn 2007 My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro Finding the Words: Writers on Inspiration, Desire, War, Celebrity, Exile, and Breaking the Rules

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