David Bezmozgis’s first book, Natasha (2004), was a brilliant collection of short stories about a family of Latvian Jews in Canada. His new book – a sad comic novel set over five months in Italy in 1978 – is less successful. It follows the Krasnanskys, Latvian Jews waiting to be accepted by Canada as emigrants from the Soviet Union. In the opening pages, which take place in a railway station in Vienna, they struggle to load twenty items of luggage onto the Rome train while 26-year-old Alec chats up two American students in cut-off jeans. This sets the tone: his wife Polina, his older brother Karl – a former bodybuilder who gets caught up in some shady dealing – and their father Samuil, a retired factory boss whose brother was killed by the Nazis, all play second fiddle to Alec’s philandering, on which the novel’s climax depends.