This past Monday evening at BookCourt in Brooklyn, Russian and English speakers alike gathered to hear David Bezmozgis read from the newly released paperback edition of The Free World. When asked why his work consistently deals with the Soviet immigrant experience although he himself was only 6 when his family left Latvia for Canada, David answered earnestly—stating that part of his motivation comes from believing in the necessity of telling the stories of a generation whose universe no longer exists. I myself can relate to that sense of urgency—that sense of obligation when it comes to preserving the stories of the generation that came before us, before they, and we, no longer remember the past.
My own family left the Soviet Union in the 1970s, joining David and his family and the fictional Krasnansky family on the exodus to freedom via Italy.
My grandparents, Michail Pankratov and Elena Semeka, around the time they met in the Soviet Union. Both were tremendously active in the dissident movement, both major enemies of the KGB. Stories like theirs are hard even for me to imagine, seemingly the stuff of fiction.