The Free World by David Bezmozgis (who looks a lot like Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead) is a book I am kind of in the middle ground on as it pertains to its quality. The story is not very original and sadly weak in areas, which is disappointing because of how much I was looking forward to reading this book, which seemed to be full of high literary adventure that is full of fun and escapism like a good Chabon or Lethem novel is. But, just like The Amazing Adventures of Kaveiler and Clay (which I do not think is Chabon’s bets work, I would go with Wonder Boys), the characters are so richly drawn out on the page, that you can forget this books flaws for fleeting, brief moments. I would not be surprised if this won a major literary award, nor would I be mad. I can clearly see why this can blow people away, even if I’m not. Its story is a very old one; concerning Soviet Jews who are fleeing Russia must live in Rome to await their secure visas so they can move to America. Alas, things change, people are hurt and truths come out. The characters are what Bezmozgis succeeds at. We have Samuil, the torn patriarch who must leave the country he has lost so much for along with his wife Emma. His eldest son Karl, a volatile personality who is not above taking immoral advantage of his émigré status to get what he wants. Finally, Samuil’s youngest son Alec, a vicious womanizer, must contend with his new wife Polina, whom he married way too quickly back in Russia. This is the most interesting aspect of the novel. It reminds me of Malamud’s short stories, where no matter how cruel the things these two do, especially in the instance of Polina’s ex Maxim, they are treated not as bad, but flawed by their own human frailty. These two are what make the story. The narrative lags, and I only catch glimpses of scenes in which something exciting is going on, but what will make or break this book for you are the characters in it, who shine quite brightly.