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The Free World

3.35  ·  Rating details ·  1,616 ratings  ·  219 reviews
A New York Times Notable Book for 2011
A Globe and Mail Best Books of the Year 2011 Title

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

Hardcover, 356 pages
Published March 29th 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 1st 2011)
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3.35  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,616 ratings  ·  219 reviews

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Stephanie *Very Stable Genius*
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
Apr 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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

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
Patrick McCoy
Sep 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
switterbug (Betsey)
May 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jayne Charles
Aug 08, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Sep 02, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Apr 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 19, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Apr 13, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 06, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Apr 23, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Oct 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Takes me back to those school's advanced literature classes in my country, reading about the characters having every day conversation and topics from one apartment to another. Most of the time I was reading someone else's letter and figuring out where they are going to end up in the foreign countries. Unfortunately, I had skipped few pages to keep up with my mental mood. Overall it is well written and easy read. I picked up few Italian phrases, got to google something about KGB of the Soviet Uni ...more
Darlene Jones
Jan 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
We've read many stories of new immigrants -- their reasons for leaving their homeland and their struggles once they arrive in a new country. Bezmozgias shows us an aspect we may not have considered - the long wait in a foreign land en route to a final destination. In this case Alex and his family find themselves, along with fellow Russians and Jews, in Rome. How they survive, the past that brought them here, the toll the wait takes on the family members, their hopes and dreams realized or dashed ...more
May 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: immigrants, literary
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.
Mar 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, italy, immigrants
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.
Dec 09, 2014 rated it liked it
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"
Apr 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
insalata russa con maionese impazzita

La storia inizia idealmente a Riga, ma si dipana come un intreccio di culture non facile da comprendere, anche perché Bez. non ci fa entrare più di tanto nella testa dei personaggi, se non del vecchio Ismail e di suo figlio Alec, privilegiando una narrazione alla fin fine aneddotica.
Il nucleo famigliare viene fotografato nel 1979, nell'arco temporale dei 7 mesi di transito a Roma, dalla loro uscita dall'URSS fino all'ingresso in Canada.
A Roma la condizione
Jan 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Free World tells the story of a family of Latvian Jews who are emigrating from the Soviet Union in 1978. For reasons that aren't clear from the novel, but I don't doubt are historically accurate, they are temporarily in Rome, while their applications to their final destination (United States, Israel, Canada, etc.) are processed. The are multiple characters: the patriarch Samuil, his wife, their two sons and daughters-in-law, and two grandchildren. I'd guess the main characters are son Alec ( ...more
Dec 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
As the present day "free world" grapples with an increasing flow of people seeking relief from hardship, from persecution, from worse, this look back to a time when an iron curtain cut Europe in two and a trickle of refugees struggled with the nits of living in the West, their learning curve seems very relevant today. A family of Latvian Jews stuck in Italy waiting for red tape to unlock their permanent settlement elsewhere confront the realities of a new economic, political and social environme ...more
The events of the book take place in the span of a few months and describe the wait of a Jewish family on their way to North America. Along with a lot of desperation, anxiety, and uncertainty, the book also bears a lot of reminiscence of life in Eastern Europe as it was for minorities, given the events of the 20th century. The strong eastern european character of some of the conversations as well as the way people interact with one another might deter people unacquainted with the pragmatic chara ...more
Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-read
Three generations of ethnically Jewish Russians emigrate in 1978 and are caught trapped, due to bureaucratic delays, in Italy with many other Russian emigrants for many months. This tale recounts some of the family members’ stories and depicts some of the details of Russia at that time and the nature of the emigrant experience. I enjoyed this book very much.
Kristina Harper
Sep 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-fiction
I soldiered on with this book until I finished it, but I found it hard to relate to in any way. It is well written, but there is a resignation to the futility of life that all the characters seem to possess. Apparently I need a tiny bit of hope in a story to fully enjoy it.
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
I highly recommend this to anyone who was a part of or who would like to learn more about the experience of emigrants from the Soviet Union in the 70's and 80's. I don't think I had an appreciation for the intensity of the conflictedness many of the emigrants felt.
Wendy Mugridge
I did not love this book. It had some funny moments for sure but overall, I did not get into it. I have to admit I started skimming parts. Just not for me.
Mar 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
There were a few interesting/funny expressions and turns of phrase but the characters were not clear and the plot points were slow. I read up to page 150.
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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.
“caesarian scar. Now that they were safely in Rome, they needed” 0 likes
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