The Free World by David Bezmozgis
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2011
From my library hold list.
A debut novel that takes place in Rome in 1978, a time when families of Russian Jews were passing through a gap in the Iron Curtain. The city was filled with immigrants waiting for visas to their chosen destination. For three generations of the Kranansky family what begins as a journey to America ends up, after six months of waiting, as a journey to Canada.
There is Alex and his brother Karl, Alex’s new wife Polina and Karl’s wife Rosa and their two sons who, along with grandparents Emma and Samuil, have traveled from Latvia to Ukraine, Czechoslovakia and Vienna finally arriving in Rome. Samuil is the one causing the delay. A former Red Guard, he suffers from many ailments, and Canada is not taking any invalids. Israel might, but that is not an option for Samuil, or for Karl and Alex. As the novel unfolds we learn some of the back story for all of these characters but the most enjoyable parts for me was the experiences within and around the migrant community in Rome.
Praised by the New Yorker as one of the best “20 under 40”, Bezmozgis is expert at the portrayal of loss while maintaining a balanced sense of humor. And we see the hopes and dreams these people carry with them into their new lives. Somewhat autobiographical, this author truely loves his characters. Parts of the novel drifted out of focus for me but on the whole I enjoyed it. I plan on reading the author’s collection, Natasha and Other Stories, sometime in the near future.