I just finished a good book, The Free World. It’s a novel about a Russian-speaking Jewish family originally from the Soviet Ukraine but lately living in Latvia (also in the Soviet Union). The story captures them in 1978, in a period of their lives when they are nowhere that is, in limbo in Rome. They are awaiting in that city, where they have no emotional or historical ties, their emigration to a final destination that has not been determined. It could be Israel, or the US, or Canada. One of their acquaintances even departs for Australia.
The book has the features of all good novels. Its characters quickly come to matter to the reader; he remains attached to them to the end, and he regrets having to let them go; he misses them afterwards. The back-and-forth in the lives of this family cover the whole Soviet era, from the February Revolution to the novel’s present and the back-and-forth work. This reader, at any rate, never felt lost, or disoriented or left behind. The author, who deals with events that took place when he was three, is brilliant at describing the psychological and, especially, the social dislocation of emigration. Unlike many novelists who try the topic, he does it without melodrama and without excessive sentimentalism. I especially admire the fact that this novel seems to me to be both very Jewish and completely universal. Let me specify that I am not Russian, not Ukrainian, not Jewish, and certainly not Latvian (but I know where Latvia is).
Bezmozgis, David. 2011. The Free World. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.New York.