The Free World by David Bezmozgis

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.

Here 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.

Find out more about the book on David’s website

Below you can find the Twitter discussion of The Free World with author David Bezmozgis that took place June 15, 2011. Make sure to follow Jewish Book Council (@jewishbook) for more Twitter Book Club events!

dbezmozgis: #jbcbooks for twitter book club tomorrow. 6 years to write; 350 pages; discuss in 140 characters ...

FSG_Books: Want to discuss THE FREE WORLD with @dbezmozgis? He's answering Q's starting at 12:30pm EST; use #jbcbooks (

JewishBook: Hi,everyone, and welcome! We'll get started in a minute, just waiting for the thumbs up from @dbezmozgis #JBCBooks

dbezmozgis: #JBCBooks: shoot!

JewishBook: Great! #JBCBooks anyone want to kick off with the first q?

Nycbook: @dbezmozgis i was wondering if this story based on research, anecdote, personal experience, or some composite? #jbcbooks

JewishBook: @dbezmozgis Loved (& hated) the charas in this book- which were easiest/most difficult to write? Who did you sympathize with most? #JBCBooks

erikadreifus: @dbezmozgis Did you "know" TFW would be a novel? Did you "know" NATASHA stories were stories? How is fictional form determined? #JBCBooks

erikadreifus: RT @jewishbook: Fyi followers...twitter's a little slow right now, so bear with us #jbcbooks

bookmistress: #jbcbooks I love your books because they show my life & so few books do. What do you think are the universals other readers enjoy?

BookGal102: This one is for the other readers out there...what did you make of what the "free world" was? what does it mean to be "free" #JBCBooks

JewishBook: Hey @dbezmozgis, just wanted to make sure all the Qs from #JBCBooks are coming up on your feed! Thanks!

bookmistress: @dbezmozgis #jbcbooks Have you ever been inspired to write about something not based in the community?

JewishBook: @BookGal102 Good q. Seems like it could have a # of meanings, one being that freedom is more a mindset than something given/taken #JBCBooks

BookGal102: That was my impression didn't seem to matter the "physical" place (Israel, Russia, Italy)...the characters all seemed... #JBCBooks

BookGal102: ...(for the most part)...struggling with "freedom" (from the past, their body, their family, red tape) #JBCBooks

bookmistress: Obviously, not JUST because they show my life. @dbezmozgis #jbcbooks I love your books because they show my life...

JewishBook: Great! Now we'll get the ball rolling :) sorry followers #JBCBooks

erikadreifus: Interesting to think how "historical" TFW must be for some rdrs. Back in the '70s, as we were w/ Jen Gilmore's "Something Red." #JBCBooks

dbezmozgis: The Soviet/Russian Jewish story still has a lot of life in it. Past and present. So it keeps pulling me in. #JBCBooks

BookGal102: @dbezmozgis Did you see Samuil as a biblical figure when you were writing? #jbcbooks

Kveller: @dbezmozgis TFW is about adult children and their parents. How did having kids change the way you write about families? #JBCBooks

dbezmozgis: Does 30 years ago qualify as historical? If it happened during your lifetime, does that make it historical? Where's the line? #JBCBooks

JewishBook: (fyi- we'll let this one go to 1:30, so everyone can get q's in and answered #jbcbooks)

dbezmozgis: Not that I have a bias against historical writing, only that I never felt this book was fully historical. Yes and no. #JBCBooks

BookGal102: interesting comment re: history @dbezmozgis #jbcbooks And to tap onto that.. it's interesting to think of it as "living", as in...
erikadreifus: @dbezmozgis Hence the smart quotes! Historical Novel Society def. is basically 50 yrs OR outside realm of author's life/memory. #JBCBooks

BookGal102: ...the comment you made about Samuil's cousin dying...and then things coming back around in his favor #jbcbooks

bookmistress: @dbezmozgis #jbcbooks It might be "historical" because that time/place is far from where we are now. 30 years ago in Canada might not be.

BookGal102:'s not over until the character/person is's always changing definition... #JBCBooks

dbezmozgis: True...for me...being born after the events..this felt like "history" even though if I had lived through them.. #jbcbooks

dbezmozgis: ..I would prob not think of quite so cleanly as something "historical" #Jbcbooks (answ to @erikadreifus )

dbezmozgis: Yes, that's true, @bookmistress. The USSR no longer exists, and much else besides. Strangely, it happened in our lifetime. #JBCBooks

erikadreifus: For anyone interested:

JewishBook: RT @BookGal102: @dbezmozgis Did you see Samuil as a biblical figure when you were writing? #jbcbooks

dbezmozgis: @erikadreifus, for readers born after 1980 a great deal will be historical. USSR, Yiddish, the 20th C. #JBCBooks

JewishBook: my q from b4: @dbezmozgis Loved (& hated) the charas- which were easiest/most difficult to write? Who did you sympathize w/ most? #JBCBooks

dbezmozgis: @BookGal102, yes. I thought of Exodus and the 40 yrs in the desert. That the generation of slaves could not settle Israel. #JBCBooks

JewishBook: good Q: RT @Kveller: TFW is about adult children and their parents. How did having kids change the way you write about families? #jbcbooks

dbezmozgis: Samuil still had the old mentality. Unfit for the West. #JBCBooks

erikadreifus: & my q fr b4 @dbezmozgis Did you "know" TFW wld b a novel/Did you "know" NATASHA stories were stories/How is fiction form decided? #JBCBooks

dbezmozgis: @kveller, having children had less of an impact on the book than the death of my father. #JBCBooks

JewishBook: @dbezmozgis that idea of "old mentality" and being "unfit" touches on an issue i was thinking about thanks to TFW #JBCBooks

JewishBook: @dbezmozgis ... that ideas and peoples win and lose over time. to you, what defines the winner of history? #jbcbooks

BookGal102: @dbezmozgis I got that impression...but then Israel ended up not being the utopia that they envisioned it would be #jbcbooks

dbezmozgis: I found Samuil easiest to write, I think. Polina the most difficult. I'd never written from a fem persp b4. #JBCBooks

dbezmozgis: Sympathize most with? Well, I have a soft spot for Roidman. He was a lot of fun to write. Lyova too. The joking. #JBCBooks

erikadreifus: @dbezmozgis ... that ideas and peoples win and lose over time. to you, what defines the winner of history? #jbcbooks

dbezmozgis: Are there winners in history? There are only people. One must try to live honorably. With dignity. The rest we cannot control. #JBCBooks

erikadreifus: @dbezmozgis I loved Roidman! And I thought there was quite a bit of humor in the book. I laughed aloud several times. #JBCBooks

JewishBook: @dbezmozgis so interesting! I would've expected Samuil to be more difficult...think his perspective was the one I enjoyed most #JBCBooks

BookGal102: @dbezmozgis None of your characters ever acknowledge how good they have it in Italy. Their situation could have... #jbcbooks

BookGal102: ... and likely would have been much worse at their destinations. #jbcbooks

dbezmozgis: @erikadreifus, I knew TFW would be a novel. A big canvas. Natasha I only imagined as stories. Still couldn't write it as a novel. #JBCBooks

BookGal102: Were you trying to portray Italy as a place that offered more comfort than your characters wanted to admit? #Jbcbooks

dbezmozgis: Once I figured out Samuil's mentality and voice, he made sense. How he thought and where he contradictions lay. #JBCBooks

erikadreifus: Must return to work. Thank you, @dbezmozgis & @JewishBook, for this chat. #JBCBooks.

Bookmistress: @jewlearn @dbezmozgis So I keep wondering what the universals are. #jbcbooks

Dbezmozgis: "Men don't just let things happen to them, IN THE SAME WAY." I think that's well put. That final distinction. If we can generalize.#JBCBooks

Dbezmozgis : #JBCBooks, I need to sign off too. Thanks for the chat!

JewishBook: We should wrap up (at least formally, happy if convo continues)... @dbezmozgis, pls answer any q's you'd still like to address #jbcbooks

JewishBook: Ok! #JBCBooks Thanks, @dbezmozgis and everyone who participated!

JewishBook: We have a special announcement to make about our next Twitter Book Club! #JBCBooks

JewishBook: For the first time, we’ll be reading & discussing a work of non-fiction #JBCBooks

JewishBook: Our book club pick for July is THE EICHMANN TRIAL by Deborah Lipstadt #JBCBooks

JewishBook: Join us same time, same place Wednesday, July 20th #JBCBooks

JewishBook: And keep an eye on our tweets this week and next to win a free copy of the book! We'll be doing multiple giveaways #JBCBooks

BookGal102: Great convo! Looking forward to next Book Club #JBcbooks