As a child, writer David Bezmozgis was among the Soviet refugees who waited in a seaside Italian village for a visa to the U.S. or Canada. His novel The Free World explores the grittier side of life there.
In the late 1970s, the Italian seaside town of Ladispoli, about an hour’s drive northwest of Rome, became a way station for Soviet Jewish refugees, many stuck there for months while they awaited visas to enter the United States or Canada. The writer David Bezmozgis, then a child, was among the Jews waiting in limbo there, until his family eventually made it to Toronto, where he set his acclaimed first book, Natasha and Other Stories. For his debut novel, The Free World, Bezmozgis turned to Ladispoli, anchoring the book’s action there. It focuses on Samuil Krasnansky, a grumpy Communist who’s left the Soviet Union against his will; his son Alec, a happy-go-lucky lothario; and Alec’s wife, Polina, a non-Jewish Russian haunted by regret over leaving her aging parents. Bezmozgis spoke to Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry about his recollections of life in Ladispoli, the political differences that tore Jewish families apart in the early years of the Soviet Union, and the seamier side of immigrant life. [Running time: 13:38.]