Sunday, 12 May 2013

Away - Amy Bloom

Away by Amy Bloom      Lillian Leyb is the  young Jewish mother of Sophie, presumed dead.  Lillian lost her entire family when, in one of those awful times when a population takes against Jews,  her husband, mother, father, and possibly her daughter were hacked to death by neighbours in their village for being Jewish.  She is hit over the head, but feigns death, and her four year old daughter Sophie who was missed by the attackers, is dropped out of the window by Lillian and told to run.  With nothing left to live for, Lillian sets out for the land of America - there is nothing left of "home", and she decides she had just as well move on.

She spends her first few months in New York working for a Jewish theatre impresario, sewing costumes for his productions, and becoming his mistress whilst being a cover for his son, handsome, gay and obviously not "out" in the 1920s.  Kindness is offered, emotions are buried, life is becoming settled, until a distant family member arrives with news that Sophie may not be dead.  Time to get back home and search for Sophie.

Poverty, and all that goes with it are described in detail, as are the trappings of wealth for those who have it.  To get to Siberia, where she is certain her daughter now is, Lillian must leave her comfortable flat, her lover, his friend who has taught her to speak "American", and any home comforts she has found in Manhatten.  She must travel across country to Seattle by train, hidden in the cleaning cupboards of two trains, and then make her own way up through Canada to Alaska. Other characters in this book speak far more than Lillian, and yet she has plenty to tell the reader.  Those she meets along the way are described so well you can see them, smell them.  She is party to a murder (accidental), she has stolen money (from the dead person), she must go on with her journey - for emotion must be repressed and Sophie must be found.

Books about making your way in America are not scarce, but I must say this is up there with the best of them. I loved Colm Toibin's Brooklyn, and I loved this book, too.   Descrptions of different ways of life are eye openers.  Research is spot on, and if you just find out one little thing from every book you read, well, isn't that something?  I had no idea about the linemen in the Yukon - single men who passed on the telegraph messages "down the line" and lived solitary life in little cabins out there in the wilderness.  There is also a particular style within the book of describing what has happened to each major character once Lillian has moved out of their lives.  I liked that. 

I have included below the American cover for this paperback.  The one at the top is the UK paperback edition, although I have no idea why such a drab cover was chosen.  On the other hand, what a glorious bowl of fruit has to do with the story I have no idea.  Just saying!