I picked up this book by Amy Bloom on the to-be-shelved stacks at the library solely because of the book cover. Yes, I know the adage. In this case, I nearly tossed the book aside after the first 50 pages. It was so disturbing.
But I kept reading, and I'm glad I did. This isn't a book I'll throw at my book club and demand they read it. They don't, as a whole, like wading through tragic, depressing novels to get to the happy ending.
And Away is disturbing, depressing, and tragic. Lillian is a Russian Jew who witnessed the slaughter of her entire family, lost her three-year-old daughter, and then made her way to America alone in the 1920s. She does what she can to survive, including becoming the mistress of a Yiddish theatre director and his actor son. When a cousin arrives from Russia and informs Lillian that her daughter, Sophie, is actually alive, Lillian is determined to head to Siberia to find her.
Lillian is a focused, determined young mother on a quest, and she'll do anything to find her daughter. Traveling by train, boat, horse, and foot from New York City, she ultimately ends up traveling alone in the Alaskan wilderness, hoping to cross into Siberia. Along the way she meets an array of people, from exceptionally kind to exceptionally perverse.
One of my very favorite parts of the novel—and I absolutely loved this—is that Amy Bloom ties up all the loose ends of the cast of characters when they step out of the story. When Lillian leaves the director and his son back in New York, Bloom tells the reader what happens to them. When she parts ways with the prostitute in Seattle, Bloom follows through, in just a few paragraphs, with the rest of the prostitute's life. I loved that.
Away is loosely based on Lillian Alling, a woman who attempted to walk from New York City to Russia in 1927. The book is sexually explicit, disturbing, and terribly tragic—but at the end, I am glad that I continued reading. Without Bloom's device of following the futures of the characters, I'm not sure I would have been so satisfied. But I absolutely love closure, and she does it so very well.