Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Away" by Amy Bloom



Away is one of those books that I'm not sure I can describe easily. But I can tell you that I loved it. I've not read any of Amy Blooms' works, but talk of her is all over blogdom. I'd heard so much chatter that this book landed on my TBR challenge list for 2009.

Lillian is a young Russian Jew whose entire family has been killed in a Jewish pogrom. Her husband, mother and father, ruthlessly butchered. Her four year old daughter Sophie, missing and presumed dead. Lillian is devastated yet focused and strong-willed. She leaves for America - a new life, a new start - and hooks up with a relative living in New York. Only when she dreams does she acknowledge the lingering horror that threatens to erode her from the inside out.

Lillian learns quickly what it takes to survive in New York. She doggedly learns the language, and becomes the mistress of a handsome young (and later we find out, gay) actor and his wealthy father. Lillian is in a way very innocent, but extremely practical, and is not afraid to use her sexuality to ensure shelter, food and nice clothes for herself. A visiting relative shockingly reports that indeed Lillian's daughter Sophie is alive, saved by her Russian neighbors, and is possibly living in Siberia. Motivated by love, and the most basic animal instinct of motherhood, Lillian embarks on a journey across America, with the intent of crossing into Russia via the Behring Strait, to find her baby. She encounters your garden variety of characters that assist her and exchange tiny slices of affection with her along the way...a soft-hearted hooker, a Chinese convict and grifter, a widowed constable, a loner running away from the law.

The story is told by a third-person omniscient narrator that almost mimics the tone you would expect to come from someone foreign to America. Basic, matter-of-fact, slightly stilted, but with a sense of humor in experiencing the insanity of the US in the 20's from the perspective of a Russian Jew. With the omniscient narrator, the story becomes one-of-a-kind. We receive these absolutely delightful flash-forwards. As Lillian intersects with each person on her journey, we are allowed to see the future of every one of them, including Lillian herself. We see them take their own lives, have children and die of old age, become lonely and sick, all in an almost nostalgic tone of voice. I have honestly never read a book that treats the peripheral and main characters in such a way. What a gift Amy Bloom has given us! This little gift is what turned a likeable book into one that I love.

9 comments:

Matt said...

or this book just because of the gay man! I have heard so much about this book, which is omnipresent in the front table of whatever bookstore I'm going into. Plus it's part-Russian fiction.

Meg89 said...

This is the book that got me started blogging, I felt like I HAD to talk about it, to write about it. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

C. B. James said...

One of my favorites from last year. I re-read it in December and still loved it.

Literary Feline said...

You do make this one sound good! I have read a few mixed reviews about it and so have been hesitating about whether to try it for myself. The subject matter is especially interesting to me and so I imagine it will eventually land in my TBR pile. Thanks for a great review!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Matt - I missed the first part of your comment, but if I were to guess what your point was, the presence of a gay man really doesn't have much significance in the story. He does have trouble connecting with Lillian, which makes her more attached to his father. Other than that, it is an non-issue.

Meg - I can understand why this was your inspiration! I have books like that...you just want to tell the world!

James - I went back and read your review of this book, knowing it was one of your top reads for 2008. Great review by the way! I will definitely re-read this one again as well.

Wendy - I think you would really like this book. It has so many layers of emotion. And, it is only a couple hundred pages long, so you can grab it when you need a break from those whoppers we sign up for!

The Bumbles said...

It is precisely because of the way that you make me eager to read a novel of depressing points in a russian woman's history, after vowing to take a break from such once done with Anna Karenina, that we gave you some love today...

Sandy Nawrot said...

I know! I am obnoxiously giddy. I have posted the award already. You are the bomb, Bumbles!

Melissa said...

I really liked this one too!

Anna said...

I might have this one on my shelf, I can't remember, but I know I have something by this author and the cover looks familiar. I picked it up from a stack of books up for grabs at the train station but haven't read it yet. Sounds like an interesting story.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric