The Free World
In the 1970s, more than a quarter of a million Jews left the Soviet Union in search of religious and political freedom; many settled in Israel, but others claiming refugee status left for Canada, the U.S., and Australia. Three generations of the Krasnansky family joins the exodus in 1978, propelled by brothers Alec and Karl. Patriarch Samuil, a Party stalwart, is not easily convinced to leave his life in Riga, Latvia, and compounds the difficulties on the journey by calling attention to the family at the border, resulting in a series of humiliating searches and the loss of his precious war medals.
The Krasnanskys, along with thousands of other families, end up in Rome, waiting for their exit visas and their tickets to a new life, and these months are the focus of Bezmozgis’s story. At times sad, at others optimistic, the inner lives of the Krasnanskys are revealed as each member struggles with a temporary life in a foreign world on the way to a permanent one in what might as well be a different solar system. Samuil and his wife Emma focus on preserving the past, while Alec, his new wife Polina, and Karl try their hands at capitalism. Karl’s wife turns to religion, sending their children to Hebrew lessons.
Bezmozgis relates their varying degrees of success with such honesty that the reader feels a part of the family, one moment cowering in fear of thugs, the next laughing out loud at the absurdity of a situation. The crowds surrounding the election of not one, but two Popes, the beaches of the Roman suburbs, and the emotions of the characters are all well-rendered. So, too, is the inevitable strain on the family as it struggles to find its course in this new world.