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This world-weary disposition is distilled in Stefan Rudnicki’s charcoal-smoked voice, a voice marinated in Russian Jewish humor, querulous and lively, though he slows down beautifully to fit the gravitas of memories. In a book with not much in the way of a conventional plot, his narration is hugely important in giving weight to the incidental details that coalesce around the family and create smaller stories woven around the simple narrative, and which might put the listener in mind of Gary Shteyngart and Isaac Bashevis Singer. The weak link is the performance of Emma the matriarch, given a uniformly soft compassion that tends to negate her impact, though blame for this must be shared by the author who has created a reactive character with not much interior life of her own. However, Rudnicki clearly respects Emma’s distress at the splintering of her family: relationships are the first casualty of new-found if undefined freedom, and couples pushed together by outside forces fall apart in the manner of old regimes and political systems. “They remained together just long enough to get to the free world, whose freedom they defined in no small part to freedom from each other.” What matters here is personal integrity in the face of overwhelming uncertainty. As Alec reflects, “How you managed to remain upright became your style, who you were. Style was the difference between him and Polina.” Alec and Polina rent a room from Lyvova, a Kiev-born tour guide with a past as compromised as any other characters. Passing through the lives of the Kraznanskys, he provides the real heart of this chaotic and charming book, and provides the book’s killer line: intent on escaping the past, but rejecting the different utopias offered to him by Soviet Russia and Israel, he says, “I want to go to the place with the least number of parades.” A fitting epitaph for a refugee from the 20th century. Dafydd Phillips
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 better 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 debth. 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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Janet on 06-28-11
Excellent Character study -don't expect a plot
This book gives the listener a window into the lives of a family in transition between locales, relationships and cultures. It paints immigration as likely closer to reality than the relief of liberation we usually hear about. I happened to be in the mood for such a piece as I listened to it, but the narrator's deep pitch and unimaginative delivery almost stopped me from finishing. Although one of the points of the tale is that we trade one complex circumstance for another, there was NOTHING resolved for any of the characters at the end nor did the listener feel that anyone had learned anything. One of the most unsatisfying endings ever.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
By TZVI SZAJNBRUM on 04-11-11
This is my first experience reading David Bezmogis, but it won't be my last. This was an exceptional novel, extremely well-written, superb narration and fascinating story-line. This book provided insight into the mindset of Russian emigres that I found quite interesting, to say the least.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful