David Bezmozgis rocks The Free World

First aired on Q (17/8/11)


David Bezmozgis arrived on the literary scene with a bang back in 2004 when his first book, the short story collection Natasha and Other Stories, was published, and immediately started racking up awards and rave reviews. Natasha portrayed the experiences of Mark Berman and his family, Latvian Jews who fled their home for Toronto when Mark was six years old. Broadly speaking, the story of the Bermans mirrors David Bezmozgis's own family's experience -- they emigrated from Latvia and settled in Toronto when he was just a boy.

Bezmozgis also uses his family's story as a source of inspiration in his debut novel The Free World, his latest work. Again, a family of Latvian Jews leaves the Soviet Union to make a home in the west. But this time, the focus is not on their new life in Canada, but rather the period of time they spent in Rome, awaiting their visas and anticipating a fresh start -- a kind of in-between stage of their lives.

The process of emigrating from the Soviet Union was long and difficult, and often it meant spending several months in Italy. This brief period was pivotal for many of these families: not only did it signify a major life change, it was also their introduction to Western culture.

"I was always fascinated listening to my parents and their friends talking about this Roman period, which sounded very romantic," Bezmozgis told Q guest host Zaib Shaikh in a recent interview. "It was these people's first experience of the west, and what a place it was."

Bezmozgis says he isn't done with telling the stories of Latvian Jews who gave up everything for a chance to make a new life for their family in the "free world." He feels confident he has discovered his purpose.

"As a writer, as an artist, I ask myself, What is my purpose? What is it that I'm supposed to do that nobody else is going to do?" he said. "For me that answer was to account for this experience."

The Free WorldThe Free World
by David Bezmozgis

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"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 depth. Enlarging on the themes of aspiration and exile that infused his first collection, Natasha and Other Stories,The Free World establishes Bezmozgis as one of our most mature and accomplished storytellers."

Read more at HarperCollins Canada.

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