It is August 1978. Brezhnev sits like a stone in the Kremlin and nuclear missiles stand primed in the Siberian silos. The Iron Curtain divides East from West as three generations of the Krasnansky family leave the Soviet Union to get their first taste of freedom. Choosing Canada rather than Israel as their destination, the Krasnanskys find themselves on an enforced holiday in Italy with thousands of other Russian Jewish immigrants all facing an uncertain future. Together the irresistible and quarrelsome Krasnanskys will spend six months in Rome, where they will immerse themselves in the carnival of emigration, in an Italy rife with love affairs and ruthless hustles, with the promise and peril of a new life.
Writing in precise, musical prose, David Bezmozgis has created an intimate portrait of a tumultuous era, confirming his reputation as one of our most mature and accomplished storytellers.
Governor General’s Literary Awards Finalist - Fiction
Shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize
“Self-assured, elegant, and perceptive. . . [Bezmozgis] has created an unflinchingly honest, evenhanded and multilayered retelling of the Jewish immigrant story that steadfastly refuses to sentimentalize or malign the Old World or the New. Sholem Aleichem might well feel proud. And perhaps so too might Philip Roth and Leonard Michaels.” ― The New York Times
“Bezmozgis overturns our cliched expectations of immigrant idealism . . . Strikingly, he never pretends that his confused, self-interested characters are admirable, virtuous or even likable, but he respects them nonetheless. His book pays tribute to their tenacity and to their sometimes accidental courage . . . Bezmozgis laces even his darkest humor with pathos. While his depictions don't flatter his subjects, they honor them by conveying each person's individual history, motivations and truth.” ― The New York Times Book Review
“The linked stories of David Bezmozgis's acclaimed debut collection, Natasha (2004), measured a young Latvian Jew's life spent as a foreigner in a foreign land--North America--and sketched an ever widening gulf between history and tradition and the immigrant's Western experience. His perceptive and engaging first novel, The Free World, is anchored a few years earlier than Natasha, in 1978 and records the Krasnansky family's existence in transit--no longer in the Soviet Union but not yet at its final destination.” ― Time
“In the past decade, a handful of writers have added compelling twists to the classic immigration novel, adding new and unexpected layers to tales of newcomers in new lands. Jeffrey Eugenides, for example, wrote about a hermaphrodite immigrant in Middlesex; in Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the protagonist had a fantastic imagination and used an unexpected language infused with Spanish and video game slang. Now comes David Bezmozgis's The Free World, an immigration novel in which the characters don't actually immigrate . . . Each person in the rambling Krasnansky clan is explored in detail and with keen insight, which Bezmozgis achieves with dazzling manipulations of point-of-view.” ―Bookforum