Lillian escapes a pogrom after seeing her husband and parents viciously murdered and her little girl has disappeared. She was told by a neighbor that her daughter had drowned in the river, and so she allowed herself to be herded onto a ship bound for New York.
“In the fifty-seven blocks of the Lower East Side, just that day in July 1924, there are a hundred and twelve candy shops, ninety-three butchers, seventy saloons, forty-three bakeries, and five hundred thousand Jews.”
Away, strong historical fiction by Amy Bloom, is in turns poignant, fascinating, wry, and wrenching. It’s a great book, but it won’t lift your flagging spirits. However, a couple of amusing moments had a Keillor-like tug to them, and they kept the tone light enough to engage me.
Things aren’t going all that well for Lillian, and maybe that is why, when a cousin arrives from the old country and tells her that her little girl is alive, Lillian makes plans to go get her. Nobody will give her boat fare, but a dear friend hatches an alternate plan: she can head west across North America, go north into Canada, and then island hop her way across the Bering Strait. It’s a terrible idea, but if it will bring Sophie back into Lillian’s waiting arms, she’ll do it. And so she’s off.
Bloom is strongest when she is building characters and describing setting. By the time the book is over and done, Lillian is so real that even though I have half a dozen books I am also reading, I think of her fondly from time to time as one might when a good friend or much-loved relative that has been to visit and then gone home again.
That said, I didn’t like it as well as her most recent work, Lucky Us, reviewed earlier and available in my archives. But that is faint condemnation, because the latter was one of the best works of fiction I have ever read.
If you like well written three-hanky stories and excellent historical fiction, you can’t go wrong with Bloom. If your pockets aren’t deep enough for impulsive book buying, check your public library; it’s where I found my copy.