Away (Review)

Labels: A Lighter Touch


Amy Bloom, 2008
256 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
January 2009

It may be the sumptuous cover that makes this book hard to resist, but the inside is delectable, too.  Away is the story of Lillian Leyb, a young Russian widow and immigrant, who takes us on a whirlwind cross-country journey. In the process, Lillian discovers America and her place in its vast landscape.

It's the 1920's, and Lillian arrives in New York City from Russia, where a violent tragedy has left her bereft of family and home.

Clever and determined, she ingratiates herself into the arms of a well-known Yiddish theater family, only to leave them upon learning that her young daughter may yet be alive in Russia. Thus begins her epic trek across America in the hopes of crossing to Siberia and finding young Sophie.

But let's get back to that book cover—with its luxuriant array of fruit set against a sweeping, panoramic vista—a thematic piece of symbolism if ever there was one. Think of the continent's prodigious abundance, of America's vast potential, of opportunity, of fruitfulness...and variety. Lillian is exposed to it all, both good and bad.

Also, I've talked before about the mother-daughter myth: of the goddess Demeter searching the earth in sorrow for her daughter Persephone (see The Lovely Bones). Some of that is at work here, as are America's own national myths about the West with its unlimited possibilites and rugged individualism.

Away is becoming a book club favorite...and for good reason. It's a fast-paced, terrific read.

See our Reading Guide for Away.

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