Shalom Life | April 16, 2014

Top 20 Under 40 - David Bezmozgis

The award-winning writer has become one of Canada's most buzzed about authors

By: Ilan Mester

Published: February 8th, 2012 in Culture » Books » Interviews

Top 20 Under 40 - David Bezmozgis
Shalom Life is proud to present our 2nd annual ”Top 20 Under 40” list. This list encompasses 20 individuals of diverse occupations and backgrounds from businessmen and businesswomen and innovative entrepreneurs, to philanthropists, entertainers, doctors and more, the list places a spotlight on the myriad of talented, creative and passionate Jews, all under 40, who call Canada home.

Top 20 Under 40 - David Bezmozgis

Age: 38

In less than a decade, David Bezmozgis has become one of Canada’s most buzzed about writers. The 38-year-old novelist and filmmaker released his first book (Natasha and Other Stories) in 2004, which was well received by many critics and readers. Just a few years later, Bezmozgis -- who was born in Latvia and raised in Canada -- made the New Yorker’s list of 20 young writers under 40. He released his second book, The Free World, last year to rave reviews from publications like The New York Times and The Globe and Mail. The novel tackles the story of a Jewish family from Eastern Europe who immigrates to Italy during the 1970s. It was shortlisted for a Giller Prize and a Governor General’s Award. But most importantly, the novel proved that Bezmozgis is here to stay.

What drew you to writing?

Reading.

Growing up, who were some of the authors you admired?

Mordecai Richler, Philip Roth. Later, Leonard Michaels. Though the list is much longer than that. I could continue with Isaac Babel, Grace Paley, Denis Johnson, JM Coetzee and Vasily Grossman. And more besides. But that depends on how you define growing up. As a reader, you never stop growing up.

What inspired you to write The Free World?

Primarily, I wanted to chronicle the experience of the Jewish emigration from the USSR. I think it is one of the most important and dramatic stories of the 20th century. Greater still, I wanted to use the book to tell the story of the Soviet Jewish experience from start to, almost, finish. Which meant that the book covered the important episodes of Soviet Jewish life from the Bolshevik revolution to the time of Brezhnev. This history is mostly foreign to Western readers, including Jewish ones. And what people do know is mostly caricature and stereotype. So I wanted to create a dramatic story that introduced Western readers to this history and this community in all its richness and variety--the tragic and the comic. Now that so many Russian Jews live in North America, it seems like something people should know. And I also know that it's important for Russian Jews to have their story validated in the wider culture.

The novel has received a lot of acclaim. What was your reaction when you found out you were nominated for a Giller Prize?

I bought a tuxedo.

Why do you think the novel has struck a chord with so many readers?

I like to believe that it is first and foremost because of the quality of the story and the writing. But I suppose people can relate to the story because many people in North America are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Also, the book follows the fortunes of a family and most people have families--even if they are not exactly like this one. (Though I would argue that most families are like this one.)

You had your feature film debut with Victoria Day. Would you like to try your hand again at directing?

I recently adapted the title story from my collection, "Natasha and Other Stories", and plan to make it in the summer of 2013.

What advice would you give young writers?

Finish what you start.

What’s next for you?

I am writing a new novel, tentatively titled "The Betrayers."


Shalom Life is currently searching for the best and brightest Jews under 40 in New York who have gained recognition in business, entertainment, philanthropy, technology and more. Please send suggestions to top20NY@shalomlife.com

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