The Free Reputation
In 2004, at the age of 31, David Bezmozgis published a slender collection called Natasha and Other Stories. The linked stories deal with the daily lives of an immigrant Latvian-Jewish family, the Bermans, and their struggles and disaffection as they adapt to life in Canada. The book was greeted with great acclaim. Its title story appeared in the Best American Short Stories 2005, and a second appeared in the following year’s edition. Natasha also won the Guardian’s first book award; and last year, Bezmozgis was included in “20 Under 40”, the New Yorker’s semi-regular survey of the best and the brightest in American literature.
The early years of the preceding decade brought about a bumper crop of post-Soviet Jewish émigré fiction: Gary Shteyngart, Lara Vapnyar, and other immigrants launched their careers alongside Bezmozgis. And though Natasha did not display the antic brilliance of Shteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, and though his writing fell short of the stark, crystalline prose of Vapnyar’s collection There Are Jews in My House, his work did share certain qualities with theirs. All three feature thinly fictionalized autobiography, a difficult relationship to Jewishness, an unresolved sense of confusion on the part of old and young alike at the newness of their lives after emigration. In the intervening years, Shteyngart’s unhinged but controlled style has degenerated into shrill and easy satire, while Vapnyar’s once unignorable work has descended into a dismal quietude. Meanwhile, Bezmozgis has seriously attempted to produce a book broader in scope and more sustained in its examinations, and the result is his newest work, a novel called The Free World.
About the Author
Sam Munson is the author of The November Criminals, now out in paperback.