Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Amy Bloom’s Away is a story of epic proportions, yet it is told within the confines of a few hundred pages. Such brevity is odd considering the novel’s scope but is well-suited to readers with little patience for never-ending sagas (like me).

The novel begins in the 1920s as twenty-two-year-old Lillian Leyb arrives in New York from Russia. She leaves after her parents and husband are murdered in a pogrom; her young daughter is missing and presumed dead.

In New York, Lillian copes with life as a recent immigrant, but everything changes when she receives word that her daughter, Sophie, might still be alive in Siberia.

Lillian does what she must both to survive and to wend her way back to Russia. In retrospect, her morals are often suspect, yet every decision she makes feels natural and appropriate for her particular situation.

Along the way, Lillian finds herself in a variety of bizarre locations, including a brothel and a prison, and associating with an unusual cast of characters, including a con-woman and a pimp.

Characters routinely enter into and depart from Lillian’s life. In a charming and creative twist, once a character exits, Bloom gives a brief rundown of his or her life after Lillian. Inexplicably, Bloom does not project the future of some characters, and I found this neglect both perplexing and disappointing.

I was also disappointed that Bloom never truly develops Lillian’s character—or rather, never lets the reader into Lillian’s soul. Bloom seems more interested in the situations Lillian finds herself in than the woman herself. Ultimately, though, I came to care for Lillian, her compatriots, and her quest to find Sophie.

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