Felicity's Reviews > Far to Go

Far to Go by Alison Pick
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's review
Sep 23, 2011

really liked it
Read in September, 2011

Yet another book on the Booker longlist that didn't make it to the shortlist. Once again, I trust the quality of this book speaks volumes about the quality of the books that did make it to the shortlist. First, a confession. I generally avoid holocaust novels. Perhaps that's not true, but I don't find myself racing out to read them. I never read nor saw "Schindler's List." I did see "The Reader" but never read it. I do read Lily Brett's holocaust novels, but I never go back and reread them--that's a privilege I reserve for her non-fiction only. Once of the nest movies I have seen so far this year was "Sarah's Key" about the role of the French people in the mass incarceration and deportation of Jews to concentration camps during WWII. But I couldn't bring myself to see a similar movie about the same topic starring Jean Reno, released just a few months later. And I went to Amsterdam and didn't visit Anne Frank's house. But I did see "The Pianist." So, in short, I approached Alison Pick's novel--which is, essentially, the story of a Jewish family from Czechoslovakia during WWII--with some trepidation. I need not have worried.

There are no camps other than what we know is hovering in the background. This is a novel about how people lived as they slowly watched their lives collapsing and shrinking around them. It does not shy away from the difficult issues...about how war--a world thrown into chaos--brought out the worst in people; about how a marriage slowly disintegrates as the Bauers struggle to survive in the face of the inevitable. Where one might expect that the couple found solace in each other's arms, their marriage actually falls apart as they bicker and differ over everything, except, ultimately, the goal of saving their son. The novel is ostensibly framed around the kindertransport--the trains of Jewish children that were saved from certain death by the "kindness" of British families and businessman who organized for them to leave German-occupied territory during the war. Part of what Pick is interested in exploring is the nature of survival for these children--the allegedly "lucky" ones, who emerged from the war alive but without any surviving family; often few memories of their origins; and no sense of their heritage.

I perhaps would have liked Pick to push this further--to explore this complicated legacy a little more as the little bit she does is so tantalizingly compelling. She demonstrates so clearly how a few breakdowns in translation can frame people's memories for life.

The problem with holocaust novels is that we know how they end--there are no surprises. I can't promise this is a novel that ends with hope or redemption or anything but sadness, but it is well worth reading, nonetheless.
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