Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I recently overheard two women in a bookstore extolling the book Away by Amy Bloom, so of course I added it to my selections. Lillian Leyb is Russian Jew who escapes after the bloody slaughter of her family and arrives in New York's Lower East Side in 1924. It begins as a classic tale of immigrant experience as she toils in a sewing factory and catches the eye of the owners, both father and son. She becomes their mistress without either man knowing about the other one. In a sly and humorous way we see her struggle with her nightmares, learn English, observe carefully in order to try to understand these men and improve her opportunities. A Russian cousin joins her and informs her that her little daughter Sophie is alive and living with former neighbors in Russia. She immediately follows her heart and becomes determined to return to Siberia to reunite with Sophie. Traveling by train, with seven dollars, she is attacked and robbed and spends a very unusual period in Seattle with a prostitute who saves her life. Lillian becomes entangled in strange doings there, escapes and proceeds on foot, through the brutal lonely wilderness of Alaska en route to the Bering Strait as the only way to get to her destination. The people she meets, mostly men, provide moving characters, windows into human need, and a story that propels you forward. Lillian's will to survive, need to carefully observe in order to learn, to get to Sophie, all create a strong and compelling character. The novel is an artful blend of fiction and fantasy that seems like it could have certainly been at least partially based on a true account. The author states that it is a work of pure fiction. It's a short novel containing strong character development and an emotionally evocative story.

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