four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
31-Nov-Dec-2007
By: 
Amy Bloom
user_rating: 
0

A-AwayAt 22, Lillian Leyb is "an orphan, a widow, and the mother of a dead child, for which there’s not even a special word, it’s such a terrible thing." Though haunted by the pogrom that claimed the lives of her family and drove her from Russia, Lillian builds a new life for herself in 1920s New York. When a relative brings news that her daughter Sophie escaped the pogroms and may still be alive, Lillian drops everything in a desperate bid to find her. Alone, destitute, and willing to do anything to reach Siberia, she sets off on a cross-country adventure, encountering misfortune and an array of oddballs and eccentrics along the way.
Random House. 256 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 1400063566

New York Times 5 of 5 Stars
"Alive with incident and unforgettable characters, it sparkles and illuminates as brilliantly as it entertains. … It is accessible to the point of pure enthrallment without compromising its eloquence or thematic strength." Janet Maslin

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Once in a great while, a work of art—a poem, a painting, a book—will register in the chest cavity, producing an ache of recognition and pleasure. Away by Amy Bloom is such a book." Karen R. Long

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Bloom’s] 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." Lionel Shriver

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The book gathers the themes of her previous three works of award-winning fiction— loss, love and family life—and spins a magnificent, transcendent work of the imagination. … Away is a short novel, but it feels stuffed to the rafters with fully realized characters, with America, with all the things that don’t fit inside the vessel we’ve taken to calling the American Dream." John Freeman

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Throughout this breathless story, Bloom blends her voice with her heroine’s to create a deeply sympathetic narrative that’s analytical but always inflected with Lillian’s fervor. … In fact, this whole novel reads like dry wood bursting into flame: desperate and impassioned, erotic and moving—absolutely hypnotic." Ron Charles

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Lillian Leyb’s American story begins on July 3, 1924, on New York’s Lower East Side, a scene so vivid and engaging, so delicious in tone, that a reader experiences an immediate thrill, the all-too-rare one that signals: I am in excellent hands here. … It’s not easy to be lyrical, funny, and brilliant all at once, and Bloom is, with a serious bonus: We don’t feel any authorial reach to imbue Away with those attributes." Elinor Lipman

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Ultimately, Bloom turns a skeleton of a story with a few paltry incidents, which may or may not be true, into a work of fiction that resonates like fact and contains the universal truths found in enduring literature. She does this primarily through bright writing and precise evocative details making the stuff of legend into the stuff of art, and proving that while truth may not be stranger than fiction, it can certainly inspire a compelling story." Diane Scharper

USA Today 2 of 5 Stars
"Away never transported me to the transcendent heights this talented writer hopes to achieve. … The undersized 240-page Away strains mightily to be an epic." Jocelyn McClurg

Critical Summary

Inspired by the legend of Lillian Alling, a Russian immigrant who decided to walk home to Siberia in the 1920s, Amy Bloom has taken the few details known to history and fleshed them out into a brilliant, enthralling novel. Critics universally lauded Bloom’s lovely prose, wit, incisive characterizations, and keen grasp of the complexities of the human heart. Her careful balance of tragedy and humor, and irony and compassion, sidesteps sentimentality, and the novel retains a Dickensian flair without ever becoming maudlin. (Only USA Today faulted its epic-like narrative.) Critics also praised Bloom’s narrative trick of revealing her characters’ futures as they leave the plot. Hailed as a "literary triumph" by the New York Times, "it is also a classic page-turner, one that delivers a relentlessly good read."

Also by the Author

Come to Me Stories (1993): * National Book Award Finalist. This poignant collection of short stories takes an unflinching look at love and relationships; many involve psychologically distraught women.

A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You: Stories (2000): * National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist. In her second collection of short stories, Bloom explores the healing nature of love in the face of illness and human frailty.