Journeying towards freedom

FreeWorld-200.jpgFirst aired on The Next Chapter (04/04/11)

Acclaimed Canadian author David Bezmozgis moved from Latvia to Canada to New York and is about to take on the rest of the world with the release of his debut novel.

The Free World is the story of the Krasnansky family: Samuil, his sons Karl and Alec, and Alec's wife, Polina. It's the late 1970s, the Iron Curtain still divides East and West, and this family of Russian Jews have left the U.S.S.R. to find a new life — and freedom — in the West.

"I don't know if people remember this any more, it seems like ancient history, though it really isn't. You know, you have people who never believed they would leave the Soviet Union. Ever. They never thought they'd see Rome. They never thought they'd see the West," Bezmozgis told host Shelagh Rogers in a recent interview on The Next Chapter.

Bezmozgis's own family immigrated to Canada from Latvia in 1979 when he was six. His experiences parallel the lives of the Krasnansky's in many ways, but this fictional family's story is set in the previous year.

"Nineteen seventy-eight was a far more interesting year. It was a confluence of all these things that were happening," Bezmozgis said. "The peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was 1978. You had Aldo Moro killed by the Red Brigades in 1978. Around that time, Pope John Paul II was elected — such as it is — in 1978. It was really a fascinating, fascinating year and a fascinating summer."

The novel offers readers insight into the often confusing and conflicted feelings of a group of people who didn't want to leave their homes, but desperately needed to leave their country. Most of the story takes place in Rome, where the Krasnansky family waits for approval to emigrate to the United States. It's an in-between place, neither point of departure nor of arrival.

Bezmozgis explained that he had "always envisioned it to be set in Rome, set in Italy at this sort of pivot point between what is the past and what is the future for these people."

A filmmaker and screenwriter as well as an author, Bezmozgis has used a variety of forms as a storyteller. But for him, the novel was an exciting medium for this particular story.

"I think it's so rich with possibility because it allows you to talk about three states at once — the past, the present and the future."

To hear the full interview, click on the player above.

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