» » The Free World: A Novel

Download The Free World: A Novel epub

by David Bezmozgis

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 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 elder son, a man eager to embrace the opportunities emigration affords; Alec, his younger son, 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, in an Italy rife with love affairs and ruthless hustles, with dislocation and nostalgia, with the promise and peril of a new life. Through the unforgettable Krasnansky family, David Bezmozgis has created an intimate portrait of a tumultuous era.

Written in precise, musical prose, The Free World is a stunning debut 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 critically acclaimed first collection, Natasha and Other Stories, The Free World establishes Bezmozgis as one of our most mature and accomplished storytellers.

Download The Free World: A Novel epub
ISBN: 1250002516
ISBN13: 978-1250002518
Category: Literature
Subcategory: United States
Author: David Bezmozgis
Language: English
Publisher: Picador; First edition (March 27, 2012)
Pages: 368 pages
ePUB size: 1804 kb
FB2 size: 1415 kb
Rating: 4.4
Votes: 779
Other Formats: lrf docx doc lrf

There are few paradoxes of the many which confront us all the time about almost everything that can be explained by anyone but a great storyteller. Only great works of fiction can come close to explaining the otherwise inexplicable, and the greatest novelists of our modern age do it through characters we can understand as complex people and not the paper thin stereotypes of our imagination.

David Bezmozgis fits that definition of the great novelist, at least from his first published novel The Free World. Bezmozgis does not answer any questions, and raises a few thousand more but his story, of the exodus of a Latvian family, mostly Jewish "by nationality" as one of them puts it, from the Soviet Union to a way station of sorts, in Rome, toward the end of the 1970s when after SALT II and before Afghanistan I, Leonid Brezhnev's government decided to allow these emigrations to take place.

Bezmozgis himself, then about six years old, was one of them but the story he tells is very rich, and not, in the main, something observed through young eyes. It is an intensely absorbing story, not simply in its linear tale, but in its descriptions of each of the adult family members and what was at issue as they made what was a perilous, difficult and unsettling journey into what is a different, if not altogether free, world.

These are the stories of real people, not cardboard stick figures, with lives and passions and history left behind, and with, at best, mixed reasons for undertaking such a move. The ostensibly free world means different things to different people and 1978 presented a different world than the one that existed in 1915. In Bezmozgis' telling, one woman, whose departure from the Soviet Union would be the product of a marriage about which she is deeply conflicted, is told by someone who knows next to none of this "If you were my daughter, I would tell you to use your ticket. Nothing is going to change here." Not exactly Emma Lazarus and yet, in the end, something that looks quite the same.

Yet, as one of the wandering Jews realizes while in the midst of his not so Roman holiday, once "life caught up with you, you could never quite shake it again. It endeavored to hobble you with greater and greater frequency. How you managed to remain upright became your style, who you were."

There is more to say about all of this, and others have said it better elsewhere. The rest of what someone completely absorbed by this novel appears here, [...], if you are intersted
To state that "The Free World" is a beautifully written, poignant, engaging book is to understate its brilliance. It employs no artifice and relies on no contrivances. It avoids every facile trope. Simply stated, its one of the very finest modern novels I've encountered. My unreserved endorsement is shared by (amongst many, many others), "The New York Review of Books" and "The New Yorker" (whose reviews of this novel are well worth perusing).

David Bezmozgis was born in Latvia, which (I presume) indicates that English is not his native language and this is his first major novelistic effort. Those "impediments" cannot be divined from this book.

Bezmozgis' real gift is for depicting "nothing at all" (by which I mean near total absence of major drama or "action"), yet still rivit the reader's attention. Take, for example, this description of a Russian emigrant employee of a relief agency: "He was in his middle thirties, balding, slightly flabby, and with the typical Russian look of fatigue-acquired in the womb, marinated in that broth of disappointments." The family patriarch, Samuil Leyzerovich, is walking along train tracks in Italy, the train having simply stopped en route due to a rail worker strike, depicted thusly: "After he passed the locomotive, a broad panorama opened up on all sides, the railroad tracks running down its middle, like a zipper on the mantle of the earth. Ahead of him, he saw a string of figures picking their way along the tracks. He looked behind him and saw dozens more, some empty-handed, some with bundles, and others with young children-women carrying the littlest ones in their arms." To quote yet another example; the exquisite rendering of Alec's fantasy involving Matilda Levy...this is so perfectly rendered as to be simply beyond reproach. Its reminiscent of the ruminations of Humbert Humbert.

The scene at the Pope's funeral is also worthy of quotation: "Two fans rotated above the catafalque, wher the pope lay draped in purple velvet. A black-robed attendant stood at his side, his face coposed for the occasion. Candles and incense burned, but not sufficiently to cloak the scent of rot. Alec heard people gasp in shock. Some crossed themselves and averted their eyes. When his time came, Alec looked uon the pope's ghastly face. It should have come as no surprise in such heat, but he, too, had expected that, for the pope, death might take the form of a benevolent hand, leading immaculately to heaven. As they moved away, a fly settled on the pope's forehead, which the attendant immediately and impassively brushed aside." This, in my estimation, is literary near-perfection; sentences to be lingered over; atmospheric; evocative; memorable.

Others have compared "Free World" to Bernard Malamud (e.g., "The Fixer"), Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, presumably due to ethnicity and topic. I agree, but I would also include Henry Roth ("Call it Sleep"), I.B. Singer ("The Family Moskat") and "City Boy" (the Herman Wouk title) in the list.

To summarize my impressions of this book, I can only use a hackneyed accolade: a masterpiece. This book will, or at least it should, join the great works of literature.