Away (Bloom)

Amy Bloom, 2007
Random House
256 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780812977790

Panoramic in scope, Away is the epic and intimate story of young Lillian Leyb, a dangerous innocent, an accidental heroine.

When her family is destroyed in a Russian pogrom, Lillian comes to America alone, determined to make her way in a new land. When word comes that her daughter, Sophie, might still be alive, Lillian embarks on an odyssey that takes her from the world of the Yiddish theater on New York’s Lower East Side, to Seattle’s Jazz District, and up to Alaska, along the fabled Telegraph Trail toward Siberia.

All of the qualities readers love in Amy Bloom’s work-her humor and wit, her elegant and irreverent language, her unflinching understanding of passion and the human heart-come together in the embrace of this brilliant novel, which is at once heartbreaking, romantic, and completely unforgettable. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Education—B.A. Weslyan University; M.S.W. Smith College
Awards—Costa Award; National Magazine Award
Currently—lives in Connecticut, USA

Amy Bloom is an American writer best know for her 2007 novel Away. Her next novel, Lucky Us, was published in 2014. She has also penned short stories—in 1993 her collection, Come to Me, was nominated for National Book Award, and in 2000 her collection, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Bloom received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater/Political Science, Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Wesleyan University, and a M.S.W. (Master of Social Work) from Smith College.

Having trained and practiced as a clinical social worker, Bloom used her psychotherapeutic background in creating the Lifetime Television network TV show, State of Mind. She is listed as creator, co-executive producer, and head writer for the series, which examines the professional lives of psychotherapists.

Bloom has also written articles in periodicals including The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, Slate, and Her short fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories and several other anthologies, and has won a National Magazine Award.

Currently, Bloom is a University Writer in Residence at Wesleyan University (as of 2010). Previously, she was a senior lecturer of Creative Writing in the department of English at Yale University, where she taught Advanced Fiction Writing, Writing for Television, and Writing for Children.

In August 2012, Bloom published her first children's book entitled Little Sweet Potato. According to the New York Times, the story "follows the trials of a 'lumpy, dumpy, bumpy' young tuber who is accidentally expelled from his garden patch and must find a new home. On his journey, he is castigated first by a bunch of xenophobic carrots, then by a menacing gang of vain eggplants."

Bloom resides in Connecticut. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 6/3/2014.)

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

[Lillian's] journey...elevates Bloom's novel from familiar immigrant chronicle to sweeping saga of endurance and rebirth.... Bloom's tale offers linguistic twists, startling imagery, sharp wit and a compelling vision of the past...[and] 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.... 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 dramatic foreshadowing of what lies ahead for her grifters and whores and romantic visionaries and stubborn, hard-bitten adventurers.... [An] impressively original novel.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions 
1. Dreams are a recurring theme in the novel. What are Lillian’s dreams, both literal and metaphorical? How do these illustrate or inform the larger subject of the American dream?

2. Much of the novel centers around self-invention and reinvention. Can you identify some characters who invent themselves over the course of the novel? Which characters are successful? Which characters are unable to complete the process?

3. According to folktales, “when you save the golden fish, the turbaned djinn, the talking cat, he is yours forever” (p. 43). Which characters in the novel are saved, in one way or another? Which characters do the saving?

4. “Not that she is mine. That I am hers,” Lillian says, describing her love for Sophie (p. 79). In many ways, love is the primary engine of the plot. How does love define, inspire, and compel characters in the novel? What are some of the things characters do for love? Do you think that love is portrayed in the novel as a wholly positive force?

5. Contrast Yaakov’s story with Lillian’s. How do they each handle the loss of spouse and children, and how are they changed?

6. Mythology—both the mythology of individuals and of cultures—is an important motivator in the novel. Which stories or beliefs drive different characters? How do established myths inform the journeys taken and the challenges faced by Lillian as she crosses the American continent?

7. During Lillian’s journey, there are key points at which she is required to demonstrate her allegiance as either a native or a foreigner, insider or outsider. Can you identify some of these moments? At the end of the novel, how complete is Lillian’s assimilation?

8. Relationships between family members, particularly parents and children, play an important role in the novel. Compare and contrast the relationships between Lillian and Sophie, Reuben and Meyer, Chinky and the Changs. What is distinct about each family? Are there similarities?

9. How are sexuality and physical love portrayed in the novel? Consider Lillian’s relationship with the Bursteins, Chinky’s relationship with Mrs. Mortimer, and Gumdrop’s relationship with Snooky Salt, as well as Lillian’s relationship with John Bishop and Chinky’s relationship with Cleveland Munson.

10. What kind of person is Lillian? What do we learn, throughout the novel, about her passions and prejudices? Do you think Lillian is right when she says that she is lucky (p. 4)?

11. The omniscient third-person narrator of the novel is able to jump forward and backward in time and between parallel narratives. What is the purpose of this technique? Why does the author want us to know what happened to Sophie, even though Lillian herself never learns? Do you think Lillian ever stopped looking for Sophie?

12. The metaphors and descriptive images in this novel are unique. Can you point out a few effective metaphors that helped the novel come alive for you as a reader?

13. What significance do the chapter titles have? What are they derived from, and what do they tell the reader about what happens in the novel? Why did Bloom title her novel Away?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2020