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Summary

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 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.

©2011 David Bezmozgis (P)2011 Audible, Inc.

Critic reviews

"[A]n assured, complex social novel whose relevance will be obvious to any reader genuinely curious about recent history, the limits of love, and the unexpected burdens that attend the arrival of freedom." (Publishers Weekly)
"Bezmozgis proves why he was recently proclaimed one of The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40; this is mellifluous, utterly captivating writing, and you’ll live with the Krasnansky family as if it were your own. Highly recommended." (Library Journal)
“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.” (Adam Langer, The New York Times)

What members say

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Janet
  • 28-06-11

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • TZVI SZAJNBRUM
  • 11-04-11

Excellant novel

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

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • DIANE
  • 30-05-11

Couldn't finish.

I just could not finish this book. I found the narrator's voice intensely annoying and though it seemed as if the story was going to eventually get interesting, I kept avoiding going any further and never finished.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Debora Katz
  • 10-10-12

Not what I expected

The story wasn't engaging. I didn't really like the major characters. It was hard to care about them. Although I found some of the minor characters interesting. I also learned about the immigration process.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • alan
  • 27-12-11

Insightfullness overcomes crude dialect narration

Would you listen to The Free World again? Why?

It hurts to join characters suffering through the immigration process, but worth it, once, for the insights into modern Soviet Jewish feelings and attitudes.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

This is a story about refugees in the modern world - not in danger, not wanting for food or shelter, but truly lost, and inventorying their values for direction as they try to find their place in the world, literally and metaphorically; here their refugee status a painful externalization of their inner lostness. The narrator counters the universalism of this quest, and the particulars of each character, by having each character speak in the same generic Jewish-Russian lilt, as though this were one long Jewish joke.

Who was the most memorable character of The Free World and why?

The old Communists, immensely sympathetic as they lose faith in a system they worshipped, realize they were dupes thinking themselves skeptics, and wonder how to can go on and be useful in this new world; and the young, trying to find their own place.

Any additional comments?

Bezmozgis is a fine portratist, depicting people in their contexts.

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Nick
  • 21-12-11

Interesting Idea But Not Interesting

Would you try another book from David Bezmozgis and/or Stefan Rudnicki?

Bezmozgis, no. Rudnicki, of course! I listen to him all the time.

What do you think your next listen will be?

Nonfiction.

What three words best describe Stefan Rudnicki’s performance?

Not his best.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

It is based on a very interesting and unique topic.

Any additional comments?

This book has too many characters, none of whom I cared about. After half an hour I realized I did not know who any of these people were. After a few hours I was still waiting for something to happen. The book would have benefited from having just a few clear main characters. Instead, it was about several people and provided lengthy background stories for just about everyone else.