Away: A Novel

By Amy Bloom

Publisher: Random House, 2007

ISBN: 1400063566

“Away” by Amy Bloom is a modern classic. It is the Odyssey, with the part of Odysseus played by Lillian Leyb, a young Russian Jew in the 1920’s. In her little village of Turov her mother, father, husband, and, presumably, her toddler daughter, Sophie, are slaughtered in a Pogrom. Unwilling to admit Sophie’s death she searches frantically only to be told by a neighbor that she had seen the little girl in the river.

 With nothing left to remain in Russia for, Lillian begins a heart-rending journey that takes her from Russia to New York City to Alaska. She does what she has to do to survive in this strange new world, where she doesn’t understand the language or the customs. Survival isn’t always pretty. A joyful day comes that she is told Sophie is alive,  rescued by villagers who fled with her to Siberia. Lillian leaves New York instantly, to find her daughter even though it means crossing the United States with just the clothes on her back and maps given her by an old Jew who secretly loves her. The maps point the way to Alaska, the Bering Strait, and Siberia. She walks. She walks through mud, snow, mosquitoes, filth, and violence into love with a lonely man. When she becomes lost in a snowstorm he goes into the blizzard to search for her and Lillian loses once again.

 This is a story of a mother’s love, of the indomitable courage of a young woman who didn’t set out to be a hero, of determination in the face of the impossible. There is love in this book but no romance. Lillian deals with reality, from having her small store of money stolen early on, to being filthy and crawling with head lice, her feet blistered and  blackened. “Yes,” you will think,  “this is exactly what it would be like to walk, owning nothing, helped by no one, from New York to Alaska.” And you will wonder every step of the way, will she achieve the unachievable and find her little daughter? Will she ever know peace and love?

 A personal note: The style of writing in this novel is somewhat different from the average fiction, and breaks rules not usually broken by authors. Personally, I think she pulls it off. Judging from the split rankings on Amazon not everyone agrees with me. I would be very interested to see comments from other readers.

 I can’t recommend this book highly enough. This was my first Amy Bloom book; it won’t be the last.