"The Free World" by David Bezmozgis
In 1978, three generations of a Latvian Jewish family arrives in Rome. It is here that they, along with thousands of others just like them, will spend a half year waiting for visas that will take them to a new life in North America.
Samuil Krasnansky, the patriarch of the family is a Red Army veteran and devout Communist. He and his wife Emma have come along with their two sons and their families, the travels being of more importance to the younger generations. During their time in Italy Karl, a father, finds himself drawn to the black market, while Alec gets a job with an immigration agency which to his surprise aids in his womanizing ways. Their time in Italy may be short, but it is a time of great importance - of limbo, of passage to a new and unknown life.
The Free World by David Bezmozgis chronicles a half-century of the Jewish experience in Eastern Europe through the three generations of the Krasnansky family. Rich in history and strong in story, the book is a fascinating look at the immigrant Jewish experience of recent times.
I expected that this book was going to be heavy reading given the subject matter but Bezmozgis' incredible and skilful writing made it just the opposite. I was instantly transported to another world, and often had to remind myself that this story is a part of recent history. The book goes beyond just recounting time and delves into the witty and the absurd.
The book goes back and forth between Samuil's and Alec's narratives, and jumps through the decades to give insight into how the Krasnanskys came to arrive in Italy. I definitely enjoyed Alec's story a bit more, though Samuil's was chock full of interesting and fascinating history. Bezmozgis drew on his family's own experiences to make this a believable and detailed story.
David Bezmozgis was selected by the New Yorker as one of their 20 under 40 novelists and judging by the strength of The Free World, his debut novel, it is a well-deserved honour. There is no surprise here that this book has been shortlisted for the 2011 Giller Prize. While Canada plays a small and outside role in this story, this book captures one of the many incredible stories that make up the narrative of our beautiful country.