Away (Bloom) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
Away is a modest name for a book as gloriously transporting as Amy Bloom's new novel. Alive with incident and unforgettable characters, it sparkles and illuminates as brilliantly as it entertains. The accomplishment is even more remarkable given the seeming drabness of the story Ms. Bloom tells. She offers a ridiculously beautiful account of a 1926 transcontinental schlep by an immigrant Jewish seamstress from New York toward Siberia in search of her young daughter…To the extent that a work of fiction can be all things to all people, this one is remarkably versatile. Away is a literary triumph, a book-club must and a popular novel destined for wide readership. It is accessible to the point of pure enthrallment without compromising its eloquence or thematic strength. Yet it is also a classic page-turner, one that delivers a relentlessly good read.
Janet Maslin - New York Times

This whole novel reads like dry wood bursting into flame: desperate and impassioned, erotic and moving—absolutely hypnotic...nobody wastes any time in this novel, particularly the author. The whole saga hurtles along, a rush of horrible, remarkable ordeals: One minute Lillian is jumping into a deadly menage a trois, the next she's beating a porcupine to death with her shoe and eating it. Not every woman could pull that off. Each chapter reads like a compressed novel, a form that works only because Bloom can establish new characters and grab our sympathies so quickly. One of her most striking techniques is the way she periodically lets little tendrils of the story push ahead, shooting into the future to spin out the stories of characters Lillian encounters along the way. Lives bloom or wither in these asides, and then we're back with Lillian once more as she trudges on, inexorably, toward her daughter. And so what begins as a paean to the immigrant spirit in a city of millions is ultimately a gasp of wonder at the persistence of love, even in the remotest spot on earth. Hang on.
Ron Charles - Washington Post

Her execution is exquisite, and exquisite execution is rare–not only in books but (alas) in almost any undertaking…The pleasures of Away are the ordinary pleasures of extraordinary novels: finely wrought prose, vivid characters, delectable details. There’s a soft-smile, along-the-way humor.... A practicing psychotherapist, this author combines eloquence with insight.
Los Angeles Times

Amy Bloom is blessed with a generous heart and a brilliant imagination, which is evident once again in her fifth and best book so far, Away.... The vividness and tenderness with which Bloom tells this story is stunning. Bloom, who teaches writing at Yale University and is also a practicing psychotherapist, has an innate understanding of the complexity of the human heart and in Lillian, she has created her most compelling character yet.
Hartford Courant

Life is no party for Lillian Leyb, the 22-year-old Jewish immigrant protagonist of Bloom's outstanding fifth novel: her husband and parents were killed in a Russian pogrom, and the same violent episode separated her from her three-year-old daughter, Sophie. Arriving in New York in 1924, Lillian dreams of Sophie, and after five weeks in America, barely speaking English, she outmaneuvers a line of applicants for a seamstress job at the Goldfadn Yiddish Theatre, where she becomes the mistress of both handsome lead actor Meyer Burstein and his very connected father, Reuben. Her only friend in New York, tailor/actor/playwright Yaakov Shimmelman, gives her a thesaurus and coaches her on American culture. In a last, loving, gesture, Yaakov secures Lillian passage out of New York to begin her quest to find Sophie. The journey—through Chicago by train, into Seattle's African-American underworld and across the Alaskan wilderness—elevates Bloom's novel from familiar immigrant chronicle to sweeping saga of endurance and rebirth. Encompassing prison, prostitution and poetry, Yiddish humor and Yukon settings, Bloom's tale offers linguistic twists, startling imagery, sharp wit and a compelling vision of the past. Bloom has created an extraordinary range of characters, settings and emotions. Absolutely stunning.
Publishers Weekly

Full of pathos, humor, and often heartbreaking beauty, this novel tells the story of immigrant life and the caring of others without being maudlin or didactic.

A Russian Jewish woman's struggles to survive in America, then recapture the past brutally stolen from her, are recorded with eloquent compression in this striking second novel from National Book Award nominee Bloom. In a brisk narrative of the events of two crowded years (1924-26), we encounter immigrant Lillian Leyb working as a seamstress on New York's Lower East Side, and becoming mistress to both theater owner Reuben Burstein and his homosexual son Meyer (a popular matinee idol). Lillian's stoicism masks the terror that haunts her in recurring dreams-of the massacre of her family by "goyim" revenging themselves on Jews sharing the meager resources of their village (Turov) and of the reported subsequent death of her beloved daughter Sophie. When another relative newly arrived in America reports that Sophie lives (having been rescued by a family that moved on to Siberia), Lillian embarks on a complex pilgrimage that takes her to Seattle and points north. She survives being robbed and beaten, bonds with a resourceful black prostitute, is sent for her own safety to a women's work farm by the one man (widowed constable Arthur Gilpin) who seems not to have sexual designs on her, then makes her way across the Yukon to the Alaskan coast, encountering a refugee exiled following an accidental killing, John Bishop, who will be either her last best hope of finding Sophie or the alternative to a life of ceaseless wandering and suffering. Summary doesn't do justice to this compact epic's richness of episode and characterization, nor to the exemplary skill with which Bloom increases her story's resonance through dramaticforeshadowing of what lies ahead for her grifters and whores and romantic visionaries and stubborn, hard-bitten adventurers. Echoes of Ragtime, Cold Mountain and Irving Howe's World of Our Fathers, in an amazingly dense, impressively original novel.
Kirkus Reviews

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