Panoramic in scope, Away is the epic and intimate story of young Lillian Leyb, a dangerous innocent, an accidental heroine. When her family is destroyed in a Russian pogrom, Lillian comes to America alone, determined to make her way in a new land. When word comes that her daughter, Sophie, might still be alive, Lillian embarks on an odyssey that takes her from the world of the Yiddish theater on New York's Lower East Side, to Seattle's Jazz District, and up to Alaska, along the fabled Telegraph Trail toward Siberia. All of the qualities readers love in Amy Bloom's work—her humor and wit, her elegant and irreverent language, her unflinching understanding of passion and the human heart—come together in the embrace of this brilliant novel, which is at once heartbreaking, romantic, and completely unforgettable.
Amy Bloom is the New York Times bestselling author of White Houses; Come to Me, a National Book Award finalist; A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist; Love Invents Us; Normal; Away; Where the God of Love Hangs Out; and Lucky Us. Her stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Short Stories, The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, and many other anthologies. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, O: The Oprah Magazine, Slate, Tin House, and Salon, among other publications, and has won a National Magazine Award.
Rather than review, I'm going to make my observations:
1. The book transported me into the life and brain of a 22 year old Russian girl who had to flee Russia to America in the 1920s. She has lived through the slaughter of her family and arrives in NYC without anything but the dress she's wearing. The author does a great job of putting you into the girl's shoes and you feel numb, desperate, your survival instincts kick in and you become ready to do what it takes to survive. Some of these things aren't what you learned to do in church, and yet they must be done.
2. The book is full of fringe characters who live and barely survive in the time. She works as a seamstress, lives with cousins, sleeps on a couch, the floor, out in the wilderness, on a cot in jail, etc., over half the book. She meets prostitutes, men running away from the law, robbers, becomes friends with a gay man, spends time in a woman's correctional facility, etc. Overall, I felt that all of these characters seemed real for the time and you really are experiencing the world of the 1920s both in NYC and Alaska.
3. There were very frank and straight forward sexual experiences along the way. The feeling that it creates is that sex was almost less complicated and straight forward then than it is now. But we're a young, inexperienced girl from Russia who is desperate, has been married and likes men. So she is very submissive and doesn't worry too much about it when approached by men she likes. I've read that these scenes were a negative by some of the other reviewers. I would say that if you can handle an R rated movie, you can handle this and that for me, it added a human dimension that made you love and understand the main character, Lillian, very well. You have extreme sympathy for her and just shake your head at what she goes through and yet still moves positively ahead.
4. From time to time the author moves us away from our main character to tell the rest of the story of the life of one of the other main characters. It is a very satisfying, dot the i's, cross the t's experience. Each sub story finishes up within a few pages and yet we have this very fun synopsis of their life that makes us smile and doesn't leave us hanging like happens very often in this kind of book. Whatever happened to old so and so?
5. Many books have an obvious ending that we're planning on experiencing as we're moving forward. Although you will formulate a similar plan here, you will find that your plan won't be realized. And yet the ending is very satisfying as we zoom away from the main character and we have closure by the end of the book, even though the main goal of the main character is never satisfied. We're left with the feeling that life is really a series of coincidences that happen along the way and that your life, as much as you want to plan it out, is really more your ability to handle things as they happen, make adjustments and then be happy with what is given to you. Humans are resilient and capable of going through a lot of extreme situations and can still survive and even thrive.
6. Lillian has trudged on foot, boat, ship, train from NYC all the way through Alaska and up to Siberia to find her little lost daughter who may be still alive or more likely dead. But human instinct, that she-bear instinct, makes us do amazing and perhaps, stupid things. And yet the book is touching, wonderful and real. You have to wonder if some of the things she goes through could have really happened, and yet, you realize, deep down, that they did happen, as horrible as they seem from our protected, pampered perspective.
If you're a little squeamish about reality, sex, etc., perhaps you shouldn't read this book. But you'd be missing a very insightful and wonderful experience.
I took a writing class with Amy Bloom during my freshman year of college. What stuck with me most from this class was her insistence that even when you're writing about an unlikable, even villainous, character, it is essential that you have sympathy for that character, or the story won't work.
That perspective is what I admire most about Amy Bloom's fiction. Almost all of the characters in Away are seriously flawed human beings, but she paints such vivid portraits of these characters' inner lives and complex pasts that I couldn't help but have sympathy for all of them and admire more than a few of them.
Away is set in the 1920s and follows the travels of Lillian Leyb, a young Jewish immigrant from Russia whose family was brutally killed in a pogrom. Lillian's chutzpah and beauty catch the fancy of Yiddish theater kings, Reuben and Meyer Burstein; under their patronage, she begins to make a new life for herself in New York City. But one day, a cousin arrives from Russia with news that Lillian's daughter, Sophie, is alive in Siberia, and Lillian sets out on a journey to find her daughter. This time, though, instead of crossing the Atlantic, she traverses the United States and makes her way up the west coast towards the wilds of Alaska. Lillian's tenacity makes her an easy character to root for; what makes her so memorable, though, as a heroine, are her clear-eyed yet compassionate appraisals of the people she encounters along the way.
A fan of historical fiction, I found great pleasure in Bloom's rendering of the glamor and bustle of 1920s New York, the sultry seediness of Seattle's Skid Row, and the bleak wilderness of the Canadian frontier. I also loved her seamless use of flash forwards, letting us know what would happen to all of the minor characters we meet, decades into the future. (Edward P. Jones used this device to great effect in The Known World--a book that Away reminds me of in other ways, with its epic cast of characters and its sober view of human nature.)
Last note: Amy Bloom writes great sex scenes! She writes them with unflinching honesty--she is clearly fascinated by the ways in which people use sex to gain advantage in life--and yet, again, her compassionate perspective comes through clearly no matter how unconventional, uncomfortable, or ugly the sexual situations her characters find themselves in.
The review is long overdue on this, but here goes…
I wanted to *love* this book. I’d come off a string of just-okay books and was very much in the mood for something epic and heartwarming (or heartrending) and memorable. It was well-reviewed and the storyline sounded promising, so I was excited to read it. Briefly, the book is about a young Russian woman, Lillian Leyb, who escapes to NYC after her family is massacred in a pogrom only to journey back to Siberia (!) upon discovering that her young daughter may actually be alive there.
The first disappointment for me was with the author’s writing style. This is not to say that she is a bad writer, but she has a way of putting things that sometimes stops me in my tracks—not in a “wow, that’s so beautiful let me re-read it” sort of way but in a “wait, who/what is she talking about now?” kind of way that made it hard to just get wrapped up in the story.
Beyond that, the story never really tied together the way I hoped it would. The author’s background is in short story writing, that seemed very evident in this book, her first novel. Lillian’s encounters with different characters felt like discreet short stories, but if I’m not reading a short story collection, I want all the parts of the book to hang together well. The novel’s disjointedness kept it from having that epic, sweeping feel that I was expecting and hoping for. I did feel, though, that I might enjoy reading one of Bloom’s story collections.
I expected to like Lillian more as well, but she proved only to be a protagonist (as opposed to a heroine) for me. And because I often found her dull (in both senses) and not especially endearing or relatable, the more fascinating characters in the book caught my eye. I was okay with them not being realistic because I had established going into the book that it just wasn’t that type of story, and I was willing to roll with it. (I’m mean, she’s a woman traveling alone to SIBERIA to look for her daughter in a time with no phones, no e-mail, no four-wheel drive, no Polarfleece, and I don’t even think she gets frostbite. Okay, maybe she does, but you know what I mean. Finding a 5 year old in a Siberian snowstorm has got to be even more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack, but whatever. I’m willing to work with an author who wants to begin with an unrealistic premise—but make it work!)
So, I often found the other characters (an enterprising prostitute with visions of world domination named Gumdrop Brown; a con-woman named Chinky Chang—sorry, that’s really her name—from a family of grifters) more interesting than Lillian herself and wanted to follow them through the rest of the book instead of her. (Come on, you guys! Don’t you want to read about them?? Gumdrop!) Of course, some of that has to do with the fact that Lillian is on a journey which necessitates leaving some of these people behind unless she wants to lead a giant ragtag caravan all the way to Siberia; but I think that’s part of the author’s challenge: you can leave readers wanting more—but don’t make them want a whole different book.
She also sleeps (wink) with a passel of dudes (and non-dudes, come to think of it) to keep herself out of trouble. That got kind of old. It felt like the author’s lazy shorthand way of showing us how desperate, determined, and in love with her daughter Lillian was. She would do anything…over and over. Okay. Got it.
(My review is cut off b/c it's too long! See Part 2 saved under the other version of the book I've listed.)
***My review is too long, so it is split up into two entries. This is part 2!***
The book was pretty short, which for me just highlights how much more Bloom could have done with it. It was only about 250 pages, and frankly, if you have ever tried to stretch a term paper out, you know some of the tricks that made this book look longer (and more worth the $25)—larger font size, ridiculous margins, thick paper.
The book has its moments. But I went into it with a certain desired reading experience in mind (picture me curled up with the book, not wanting to put it down, laughing, tearing up, daydreaming about it when I couldn’t sit down to read it, staying up late to finish—the way I read my favorite books as a child) but came away without that, and as a result found the book hard to enjoy.
I’ll end by pointing out that the Amazon reviews on this one when I checked earlier today were very neatly spread out across the board (23 five-star ratings; 5 four-star ratings; 6 three-star ratings; 10 two-star ratings; and 15 one-star ratings), so who knows? You just might love it!
This book is really interesting. Considering the basic plot - Russian Jewish woman whose entire family was slaughtered before her eyes escapes to America with literally nothing, establishes a fairly comfortable life here, then completely abandons it to go back to Siberia, due to a rumor that her young daughter whom she previously thought dead might still be alive - on plot alone, it seems like exactly the type of book my mother-in-law would read in her book club. However, when I looked at the reviews on this site and on Amazon before starting the book, I kept seeing complaints about how slutty the main character was, that she basically sleeps her way through her journey. So I was all prepared for nonstop sex, and while there was lots of different kinds of sexual encounters, it didn't seem overly smutty to me (although once again, if I had been expecting the usual immigrant fiction type book at the start, maybe I would have raised my eyebrows more). Anyway, the intriguing thing about this book isn't about the sex, but about the way that it's written. Bloom has a really interesting writing style - she jumps back and forth in time with no transitions, and she'll send off a minor character from the main narrative by telling you how they live out the rest of their lives (including how they die and whether or not they die happy). It was somewhat reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the way she dealt with time. I also really liked the way the book ended - a lot of questions are answered, but it wasn't a silly well-tied up Hallmark movie ending, either. She does other interesting things with language that I enjoyed - for example, she's not one of those authors who spends pages and pages detailing what the room looks like, how the character sits down in a chair, etc. She gets right to the point of the scene. Some reviewers complained about having to read a paragraph several times to understand what actually transpired, and I did have to do that a few times, but I liked it - I felt there was an actual purpose to her writing it that way. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book a lot, and I'll bet my mother-in-law is probably going to read it in her book club anyway, smut or no smut - ah, to be a fly on the wall the day they get to the girl-on-girl scene!
3.5 stars Lillian Leyb had to create a new life for herself in America after her Jewish family was slaughtered in a Russian pogrom in 1924. She started as a seamstress at a New York Yiddish theater. When she receives the news that her young daughter Sophie might still be alive in Siberia, she undertakes a rail trip across America, then heads north to Alaska. She plans to cross the Bering Strait to find her daughter.
This is a tale of endurance where Lillian has to make hard choices in order to survive as an immigrant. Dreams of the night of the pogrom haunt her throughout the journey. She interacts with colorful, flawed people from many cultures during her trek, some of them enduring their own losses. She is rescued by people who have been through hard times themselves. Lillian finds friendship and caring in unexpected places.
I enjoyed Amy bloom's lush descriptions and vivid characters. The author was also a practicing psychotherapist, and she reveals the humanity in everyone--prostitutes, pimps, convicts, unskilled immigrants, and northern loners along the Telegraph Trail. This was an engaging novel of a perilous journey.
"an orphan, a widow, and the mother of a dead child, for which there's not even a special word"
A few years ago i read The Woman who Walked to Russia: a writer's search for a lost legend by Cassandra Pybus. Pybus was browsing a bookshop while traveling through Northern British Columbia when she first heard of Lillian Alling, a woman purported to have walked from New York to Alaska on her way to Siberia in 1927. There were bits and pieces of the legend to be found here and there that told how Lillian, a Russian immigrant, homesick, had haunted the New York Public Library hand copying maps and then somehow made her way across the country's railways to then follow the overland telegraph trail, on foot, through sub-arctic Canada and Alaska.
The splinters of this woman's saga took hold in Pybus' mind in a way that would not let her rest until she knew whole of the tale. Once she got back to her home in Australia she researched Alling and only found more pieces, ever more enticing. Eventually she decides to take her own road trip to try and retrace Lillian's steps and in the end it is not until she is on her flight back home that she incidentally finds the truth. It is an interesting narrative of one woman's search for another woman's single-minded journey that took me over some of the familiar territory of my youth.
Away first appealed to me because i had read some of Amy Bloom's stories and liked her style. It was described as the story of a "dangerous, accidental heroine" whose family is slaughtered in a Russian pogrom and then comes to make a new life in America where she starts out in a yiddish theatre, moves on to the Jazz District of Seattle and then travels up through the Yukon. It somehow took me by surprise once Lillian Leyb hopped that train from New York and her story started resembling details of Lillian Alling's trek. At one point i had to flip to the acknowledgements in the back to find that Pybus' The Woman Who Walked to Russia was indeed mentioned. For me, making this woman flesh and blood and giving her motivations that i had previously not understood made both books all the more valuable (Lillian Leyb is looking for the daughter she had thought dead, but now believes alive.)
I'm not sure that calling this Lillian an accidental, dangerous heroine is entirely apt. She is not the most likable protagonist i have ever read. In many ways she has left her soul back with her dead loved ones in Russia (if she ever had it to begin with, sometimes it is a little difficult to tell~though perhaps that makes her tale all the more poignant.) It is a rather brutal novel to read but it is told with an honest and clear voice that i found enjoyable. I loved that Bloom told the fate of each person that had touched Lillian's life when she saw them for the last time, it was a touch of omniscience that did not seem out of place~that is quite a feat for a writer to pull off. With a few caveats i would recommend this one.
I was drawn to this book from the reviews as well as the historical fiction aspect of her novel. I really wanted to like the book but I did not. The novels main storyline was a good one and when Lillian went to the US from Russia during the time of immigrants in the 1920's it was a good start to the novel. Although, each chapter lended itself to more of a short story and she wrapped up each character with a finality to their life which I disliked. Another reviewer here has commented that Amy Bloom writes "great sex scenes", I disagree. I felt that it took away from the storyline and cheapened it. The author did show the numerous ways that people use sex to gain advantage in life. I felt it was too dominant of a theme and that it spoiled the book. I just knew what was coming up next as Lillian would meet a new character. It was unnecessary and unrealistic to think that one person would have those experiences! I thought that the best characters were Yaakov and John...they seemed to draw out the true character of Lillian. The ending left me feeling empty and disapointed, especially when it was inferred that this was all a dream!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This book has been on my bookshelf for many years, and has been through a few moves. I finally decided that it was time I cracked it open. I liked the opening of the story, as main character Lillian Leyb arrives in New York City in 1924 from Russia, after her Jewish family is massacred by their neighbours in a pogrom. The way Lillian finds her footing in a totally unfamiliar environment was interesting reading. Then, she hears from a cousin that her young daughter, long thought dead, was actually found and taken in by neighbours. This sends Lillian on a massive trip to Siberia; she crosses the US, and ends up in Alaska. Each place she stops at her life seems to worsen. Unfortunately, the longer I read this book, the less I cared about the main character. (In fact, I cared more about a supporting character, Gumdrop Brown, than I did the main.) Which is a pity, because the historical details are great, and the time period fascinates me. Oh well.
This book was recommended by a co-worker, and the premise sounded very interesting. Unfortunately, I really disliked the writing style. I found it very disjointed. The narration also seemed kind of distant, and it gave very little insight into how the main character felt about the terrible things happening in her life.
Aside from the writing style, I also found the story to be very depressing. It tells the story of a young Jewish woman, Lillian, in the 1920s who flees her home in Russia after her whole family is killed. While in NYC, she ends up in an affair with a father and son, but it's unclear whether she's doing this just to survive or if she has any genuine feelings for them. She is then told that her daughter, who she thought was dead, is really alive in Russia. She sets off to try to find her, and lots more bad things happen to her along the way. At that point, about halfway through the book, I stopped reading. I kept thinking it would get better, but then realized it wouldn't! I think the story, though sad, would have been interesting had the writing style been better. But with that combination, I couldn't get myself to finish it.
I put this book on my list primarily because of several rave reviews from Goodreads friends. I made it to page 79, but it's going back to the library today.
The story itself was inventive and should have held my interest: Russian Jewish woman in the 1920s sees most of her family cruelly butchered in a pogrom and believes her daughter has died or is permanently missing, then ships to America, where she becomes involved with both the father and son in a Yiddish theater dynasty in New York.
I realize I am giving up on this book before I enter the crucial phase of Lillian's search for her now apparently living daughter, but Bloom's writing style soured me too much for me to stick with it.
I don't know whether to ascribe my problem to what I would call "Creative Writing 101" syndrome or something else, but the non-sequiturs in Bloom's storytelling were driving me crazy.
Here's just one example. At one point, Lillian is returning to her apartment and is about to be surprised by the appearance of a cousin, Raisele, who has arrived from Russia and found her way there.
"She bumps open the door with her hip, holding Meyer's American cookies, Reuben's herring, her own hairpins and curling papers. Her cousin Raisele stands in front of her, head cocked, arms extended sweetly, as if she has come to America just to help Lillian with her wet packages. Lillian holds on to the boxed cookies and the herring, she thinks to put her key in her purse, and she does not faint as Raisele thought she might. Raisele herself thinks that fainting is a brilliant way to handle awkward situations, and she has practiced buckling her knees and letting her head drop loosely from her neck so many times that she can perform a faint wherever there's a little floor space."
This is how a brand new character is introduced in the flow of the story, a character who will deliver the profound message that Lillian's daughter may still be alive. There is no drama to it, and no real charm in the quirkiness of just inserting her into the narrative, and this kind of sudden turn in the flow to some new subject or person is constantly occurring in this novel.
The voice in this novel is impeccable. The main character, Lillian, is so human that I feel I *really* do know her. Her adventure gets moving in the second half of the book, and the novel changes from a compelling story of an immigrant escaping to safety to an un-put-downable tale of Lillian's struggle to return to the source of her pain. I've read few novels that make me feel like love has been honestly explored, but this is one.
Bloom descends briefly into the full lives of characters who have had some effect on Lillian. At first this jarred me out of the narrative dream and annoyed me, but the fact is, I can't stop thinking about these characters a week after I returned the book to the library. To my way of thinking, that means Bloom was in complete control and has done something more meaningful than merely letting me linger in the narrative dream. I'm not quite sure what that is yet, but I like it.
I started this book knowing that it would be sad in the beginning. I just didn't think that the entire book would be as depressing as it was! The main character Lillian, loses her whole family all at once, very sad. But once she is in America, she sleeps with EVERYONE she comes into contact with. Every other major character (characters who get names and end up getting their whole lives summed up in the book as well, which was another thing I didn't like), she ends up having sex with them. I was not expecting this at all. I mean, I understand that back then immigrants had to do some morally and ethnically questionable things in order to get where they wanted to be. But everyone??? I don't think this girl ends up actually working a hard day in the entire book! She gets all the help she needs from people by sleeping with them. And all the other characters (save one) are equally despicable/un-redeeming/chock full of character flaws. Gumdrop,Chinky (the girl's actual name),Ruben, Meyers, Snooky, everyone. They are low-down, lying, manipulating, greedy, selfish people and i hated all of them. I am not naive, I know that is how most people are in real life at least to a certain extent. But it gets old after a while when you a reading a work of fiction and you are reading it in order to be entertained. I was not entertained. Another thing I found disconcerting while reading this book is the actual way it was written. On almost every other page the author is switching between character points of view, or she changes the tense of the sentence and it made it super confusing at times to figure out what was actually taking place. Several times I had to stop and re-read something because I could not make sense of who was saying/doing whatever was going on; even what was actually going on in the scene. And to top everything off, the ultimate goal Lillian had in the beginning of the book (finding her daughter by returning to Siberia) NEVER HAPPENS!!!! Yes yes it is nice that she settles down with a good (great?) man and they have a happy life together, but she never got to see her daughter Sophie ever again!!! How could you, as a mother, ever really be happy after that? I'm not sure. The only character I really liked was John, the man Lillian ends up marrying and he is only in the last 40 pages of the novel. The book started off interesting, especially since it is set in the 20's which happens to be one of the decades I find most fascinating and glamorous. But the author didn't even really focus on that too much, and eventually I was reading the book just to finish it, not because I was actually enjoying it or being entertained by it. If I were you, I would skip over this one.
This was my book club’s choice for June. It’s not something I would have chosen on my own, partly because of the odd bowl of fruit on the cover.
Away is the story of Lillian Leyb, whose family was killed in Russia in the 1920’s. She finds herself in America ready to start life anew when she learns that her daughter may have survived back in Russia. “She embarks on an odyssey that takes her from the world of the Yiddish theater on New York’s lower East side, to Seattle’s Jazz District, and up to Alaska, along the fabled Telegraph Trail toward Siberia.” She meets lots of unsavory and quirky characters along the way, but because of the sweeping geography, you only get to know the characters superficially. I never cared what happened to any of them, but Amy Bloom tells you their entire life story (what happens after Lillian leaves them) at the end of every segment.
Not only are all of the secondary characters flat, but Lillian Leyb is completely devoid of any likeable characteristics or real emotion. Also, she has sex with nearly every single character in the book. No joke. If she meets a character, it’s almost guaranteed she’s going to have sex with them. At one point she meets three motherless children and I was a little afraid she would sleep with them, too. (She doesn’t.) She doesn’t even seem conflicted about her role as a mistress or prostitute; she just accepts it and it’s all very ho hum. Surely she felt some shame or guilt?
As for the ending, it was completely unsatisfying. Amy Bloom tries to wrap it up in a neat little package and tells you exactly what happened, but she fails to tell you what the characters were feeling about it all (as with the rest of the book). I can’t say I would recommend this book to anyone, but at least it was only 235 pages so I didn’t waste more than a few hours.
I'm glad to be off to a good start with this book. I'm a little surprised that I ended up liking this much as I did. It definitely wasn't what I thought it was going to be and I'm glad it was much more. It took me a little while to get the feel of the writing style. At first I was a bit thrown off but then began to actually like it. Also I feel like as the book progressed the writing, the story, the characters became better and better.
This is kind of a journey/adventure/life is rough/school of hard knocks/find your way home/find your way to peace book. If you can relate to that. It's a theme we at times find in books. The main character, Lillian, for her own deep seeded reasons resolves to go on a journey of epic proportions. As she makes her way across land she encounters a hodgepodge of interesting characters who she interacts with on various levels. Each one leaving lasting effects on her life as she leaves upon theirs. She started her journey filled with grief, sadness, numbness and regret. But she felt she had to go. It was far from easy. She had lost all her pride. When she was at her lowest, love found her again.
It was very interesting. From each character she takes and she gives something emotionally. Sometimes she is given something material, which I feel was almost symbolic. She had to make this journey. The healing was in the journey. In the progression of it. Within the encounters of the people she met. The world is a big bad place but life is complex. Each encounter had elements of the good and evil. Lillian had these things within herself. Elements of the tragic and elements of care. As the story progressed I did become curious about this adventure. I became involved once I saw the pattern of the journey and the next set of characters and circumstances would be along. I began to wonder and expect them. I at times wanted Lillian to just stop running. Because although she thought she was going, she really was going. Lillian was memorable but I never became lovably connected to her. She was always distant. If she could reply to my saying this she might say, "good." I don't think Lillian would care if we loved her or not but if we did she might appreciate it. She just lived. Her story was her her story. Only John understands her and that is all that would matter to her in the end. Once she found home.
I give this a 4 star. I do recommend it. Yes I'd read more by this author. I only wish I had "liked" more quotes. The writing is really good. There was a bit of future foreshadowing that at times could potentially knock a reader off track but again once I got the hang of the style. I didn't mind it much.
Here's the storyline I came away with- a woman immigrates to America and sleeps around to get what she wants and overcome poverty. The real plot is that a woman comes to America after her family, including a 4 year old daughter are murdered, where she is given a seamstress job at a theater in NY. The lead actor (also the theater owner's husband) takes a fancy to her, and she becomes both his and his father's mistress. A cousin comes and tells her that her daughter is actually alive, and she decides that she must return to find her daughter. She travels across the country from New York to Alaska in search of her daughter.
I didn't like this book at all. I didn't relate at all with this woman who fell to her knees for a man anytime she needed anything and felt like women were generalized as seductive and only good for sex throughout the novel. I never really felt any real emotional connection to this woman who lost her daughter and couldn't understand why she would travel across the world to find a daughter who might actually be dead. The author just didn't build the connection between mother and daughter strong enough for me to understand the reasoning behind the journey. This is definitely one you can skip unless you're in the mood for a good prostitute novel.
Oh my gosh. My only fear about reviewing this book is that nothing can probably live up to your expectations if I tell you how much I love it. It is right up there with The History of Love.
It could be partly that I am always interested in stories about people who are not middle- or upper-class. Bloom's heroine Lillian is so unapologetically determined and realistic that you can't help but fall in love with her. She embodies what is probably the book's catch phrase, what one needs to do, one can do.
Bloom is a master of showing rather than telling. If I were a writing professor, I'd teach this book now. And she manages to tell side stories without them feeling like tangents.
I am going to write to her and thank her. What an amazing experience. I met her a few years ago at a signing of Even A Blind Man Could Tell How Much I Love You, and she was wonderful. Yay, I'm so happy for her!
When I read some of Bloom's short stories, I wrote that I would have loved to have seen some of her short stories, fleshed out to be novels because I found her characters so unique and intriguing. Reading 'Away', I realise that even with the extra length of a novel to play with, Bloom still doesn't really flesh out her characters. They were fascinating, in description, then before you even got to get to know them, and love them or hate them, Lillian was leaving them behind. So I was left with this feeling of having been introduced to all these great people at a party, only to have been swept along to meet someone new, and so on - until the end of the night approaches, and I'm left with a head full of introductions and no substance.
Various, hard-hitting things were written into this novel, but they weren't dealt with. I never really knew how Lillian felt about anything. She was this ghost-like character that went on this rather unbelievable journey, who didn't seem to have any emotion. She felt cold to me. Stuff happened to her, but she wasn't really involved. She could've killed someone and moved on like it didn't even really happen ... if you know what I mean.
I did actually enjoy how she wrapped up character's lives (once Lillian had moved on from them). I wouldn't dig this in every book that I read, but I really enjoyed it in 'Away'. To me, this book shows that Bloom's natural talent is short stories and really, I'd prefer to read her short stories and be left wanting more. If the characters in this book were written as Amy Bloom short stories, I think that I would have loved it.
Amy Bloom's novel grabbed me from the very beginning and elicited a mixture of emotions including, "Damm. Why can't I write like this?" It's the story of Lillian Leyb's journey through many worlds in the United States of the 20's--the Yiddish theatre scene in New York, the back alleys of Seattle, an "Agrarian Work Center for Women," and the wilds of Alaska. Lillian came to New York after her parents, husband, and daughter were killed in Russia; she thought never to return there until she recieves news that her daughter, Sophie, may still be alive--taken by a neighbor family who escaped the pogroms and eventually went to Siberia. Lillian's goal is to get to the outer reaches of Alaska and take a boat to Siberia, but this novel is all about the journey and the people Lillian meets along the way. One reviewer blurb on the back of the book mentioned the novel having echoes of Ragtime and Cold Mountain and I would agree--there's a journey and a rich picture painted of the 20's. In less than 250 pages, Bloom pulled me into worlds I won't easily forget and did so with a short story writer's economy and grace. Good stuff here.
I considered giving this a 1, but truthfully it was only the last 1/4 of the book I didn't like. The rest of the book was OK. This is a story about Lillian, a woman who flees Russia in early 1920's following a Russioan pagrom where her entire family is assumed to have been killed. Lillian becomes a "kept" woman by a Yiddish theater star and his father until she learns from another Russian immigrant that her daughter may still be alive and living in Siberia. The rest of the book involves Lillian's journey through many trials to make her wqay to Alaska and then get to Siberia to find her daughter. Once Lillian is "finally" on her way through Alaska, THAT is where the story starts to turn out like a poorly edited movie with some completely unbelievable parts. Then comes the "out of nowhere" ending that just did not make sense. Maybe I missed something (though I listened to the last 10 minutes of the CD three times. I'm still without a clue as to what the ending is all about. So frustrating!! And I think this book was up for prizes too. Really?? So, if you read this book and actually GET the ending, let me know OK? :)
So, there are 74 reviews of this book, and the ones I read are pretty glowing. I didn't think it was bad, but it was incredibly strange. When you open up the first chapter and discover that you are reading about a Jewish immigrant to New York in the 1920s, it doesn't necessarily follow that she'll be murdering a pimp in Seattle a few chapters later, never mind getting a tattoo in a women's prison. I had to suspend a lot of disbelief for this one, and felt the ending was unsatisfying. Imagine getting to the end of an Indiana Jones movie where he's gone through incredible trials to save, say, the Holy Grail, and then just a few minutes before he gets there he says "Eh, fuck it, here's a cute girl. I'm just going to settle down."
Bloom went to great pains, at times, to explicate what happened to minor characters after Lillian lost contact with them, but then what happened to Lillian is wrapped up quickly, as though Bloom got to the end and was just tired.
The editor of Publisher's Weekly said this was her favorite book of 2007, so I had to check it out. I'll be chewing on this one for awhile - there are some heavy issues, as Lillian, the heroine, is a Russian immigrant whose Jewish family was slaughtered because of their religion. She faces a hard life in America in the 1920s, when she gets the news that her young daughter is alive, taken by neighbors to Siberia. So she starts the long trek to find her daughter, meeting all sorts of colorful characters along the way: a prostitute named Gumdrop in Seattle's Skid Row, a Chinese grifter in a woman's prison...these folks leap off the page. And as Lillian moves on from each of them, Bloom considerately tells how each of their lives pans out after she leaves. It's a beautiful book that is so well-researched that the characters and situations ring with authenticity.
A new author for me and and I liked her a lot. Interesting approach in that she would often tell you the outcome during the travails of the character. A good summer read...about determination, courage, resiliency, the human spirit and love...all kinds. One of those where you always wonder how you would react yourself ...me, I'd probably just curl up in a ball and die of fright under any of those circumstances. Women are amazing! Men too, but women are REALLY amazing!!!
One of my all-time favorite books about Lillian,a woman who comes to the U.S. after her world is destroyed in a pogrom. Upon discovering that her young daughter might have survived, Lillian tries to make her way across America to Siberia to find her. An epic historical illumination and unforgettable heart-breaker -- brilliant!
A bold and beautiful, harrowing tale of endurance and maternal love. Lilian, a Russian Jew, survives a 20s pogrom that kills her family, and emigrates to USA, only to try and make it back to Siberia when she hears her daughter has actually survived. To do so she is at the mercy of the people she meets along the way, and, although much hardship, sex-for-food or passage, disease, hunger and poverty is endured, the people, once they have got what they want from her, are often surprisingly supportive. There were times when I wanted more about the characters she meets, particularly the Yiddish theatrical dynasty in New York (she sleeps with both father and (gay/bisexual) son), and the lesbian 'Chinky', but there is a restlessness here, a constant moving on, although 'codas' at the end of each chapter do fill in what happens after...
When I opened the book to read, I discovered that I had already read it but did not remember it any cohesive way. To me, since it didn't leave much of a lasting impression, it would mean it was good but not wonderful. Only the most extreme events of the novel stayed in my mind, but even then, it was only in the barest outline form, so I had to skim the entire book in order to have it come together again in my memory. I will say that it was an interesting book with many interrelated themes of survival and love running through it, spanning several decades and taking place in several countries and locales. The book moves seamlessly between events and holds the readers interest at all times but the circumstances surrounding many of the most important moments in the book are not always believable. Many of the characters, who were well developed, seemed to have major flaws in their own "character", always doing what was expedient to accomplish their ends regardless of morality or ethics. Often, I stopped to ask myself, did the end justify the means? I am always amazed by the way characters use each other and abuse each other, in the books I read, and am sometimes disheartened when I realize that many of the incidents are based on a reality that may have actually existed in another form in one or another moment in time; fortunately this disappointed feeling often collides with a feeling of unexpected pleasure when I read of acts of inexplicable, unbelievable courage and kindness, which occur for no apparent reason. This book did not disappoint me in that way. The main character is on a quest to find her daughter who was “lost” during a savage and barbaric Russian pogrom. The roads and paths that lead to that goal are varied and wide, filled with suffering and high and low moments, often unrealistic in content and scope. She and many of the novel's characters seem to have exceptional lives with unusual problems and pasts. Nothing ordinary occurs. Life for the immigrants and citizens of the various countries we are exposed to in the book, in the early part of the 20th century, was hard and survival was almost accidental in certain circumstances. Events seemed to bump against each other randomly, at times, however, they blended well, in the end. Each character is looking for something and each finds an avenue to get there which does not always lead them back to the beginning of their quest but often takes them off course making them, surprisingly, still happier with their unexpected results. Perhaps they find that what they think they are seeking is really not worth it or is really not attainable and what they have found instead, is more than than enough. Whatever the result, it is a circuitous, but exciting, route to the conclusion.
A book to read when you want to read words and not skim to get to the good bits as such in this book, its a hard fought journey beautifully crafted. It did take me a long time to really immerse myself in this novel. Each stage of her journey was like reading a short story and at times it felt like you may have read a similar sort of story or setting in another book many years ago. As Lillian moved on to the next place and set of characters you were rewarded with a synopsis of what would eventually happen to those she had left behind. I only persisted with this novel because of my enjoyment of previous books by the author and it was worth it. When the ending finally came I wasn't ready and felt it could have been slightly more drawn out. I was left with the feeling that this unusual book may have been based on a tale, from yesteryear enhanced and elaborated. Reading other reviews there is a hint that the characters name is the same as a woman who took a similar journey across America in a similar time period but the author states that it is a work of fiction from beginning to end. Lines from the book I particularly enjoyed in no particular order. Lillian speaking about her daughter. "Not that she is mine. That I am hers." Page 79 "The shoulders," his father likes to say,"are like breasts on a woman. They signal. They persuade." Page 35 "You missed me ," he says and smiles as if this is an old joke between married people, as if they've been parting and returning to each other hundreds of times over the years, and have come to know, the hard way, that the measure of the love is not how many partings you go through but that there is always one more reunion. Page 217
the story focuses on the external awesome life of an immigrant woman Lillian from the pograms to the lower east side to the pacific northwest to Alaska to Russia again. The charming, determined heroine struggles to survive, and then find her daughter again, and perhaps to find love. At first the book is a charming description of the immigrant experience through the eyes of the woman who has lost everything. then a newer immigrant, who may be lying, states something that changes everything for our protagonist who pick up and travels west to get back into Russia through Alaska. Lillian meets vivid characters along the way. Anything else said might spoil the book. The book is a more a fictional biography rather than internal personal struggle of the character, but the characters, both protagonist Lillian and some of the surrounding characters, are fascinating. Some of the characters are very stereotypical: the whore with the heart of gold etc. So just skim through those parts. Some of the passages are amazingly moving. Worth reading. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/02/boo...
While a bit slow in a few sections, I enjoyed this book immensely. Other reviewers have said the writing was a bit disjointed but I only noticed it once and then I still was able to piece together what had just happened. Lillian's quest to cross America and get to Siberia had her meeting some very engaging, unusual characters. I could see this as a movie with scenes from the New York theatre life to Seattle's Skid Row to adventures in Alaska's wilderness. I would like to read more of Amy Bloom's work.