Feature

Novel of the week: The Free World by David Bezmozgis

The Free World charts the course of a former Communist bigwig and the two dreamer sons he’s reluctantly following on their journey westward.

(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26)

The title of David Bezmozgis’s amusing first novel is “tauntingly misleading,” said Irina Aleksander in The New York Observer. His subject is actually the purgatory that immigrants to the West often endure when reaching for new freedoms—in this case, a five-month holding period in 1970s Rome for a family of Latvian refuseniks. The Free World is a “coming-of-age tale of a different sort,” as each of the accomplished, educated narrators is at first “reduced to a helpless, bewildered child” by the unfamiliar surroundings. The story is full of wistful charm, said Leigh Newman in Bookforum. Bezmozgis has created rich tension between the family patriarch, a former Communist bigwig, and the two dreamer sons he’s reluctantly following on their journey westward. Along the way, we’re reminded how “the burden of history” weighs differently on different individuals. But Bezmozgis also shows us that, when it comes to character, a move from one political system to another changes little.

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