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Away: A Novel Paperback – June 24, 2008

3.3 out of 5 stars 218 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Life is no party for Lillian Leyb, the 22-year-old Jewish immigrant protagonist of Bloom's outstanding fifth novel: her husband and parents were killed in a Russian pogrom, and the same violent episode separated her from her three-year-old daughter, Sophie. Arriving in New York in 1924, Lillian dreams of Sophie, and after five weeks in America, barely speaking English, she outmaneuvers a line of applicants for a seamstress job at the Goldfadn Yiddish Theatre, where she becomes the mistress of both handsome lead actor Meyer Burstein and his very connected father, Reuben. Her only friend in New York, tailor/actor/playwright Yaakov Shimmelman, gives her a thesaurus and coaches her on American culture. In a last, loving, gesture, Yaakov secures Lillian passage out of New York to begin her quest to find Sophie. The journey—through Chicago by train, into Seattle's African-American underworld and across the Alaskan wilderness—elevates Bloom's novel from familiar immigrant chronicle to sweeping saga of endurance and rebirth. Encompassing prison, prostitution and poetry, Yiddish humor and Yukon settings, Bloom's tale offers linguistic twists, startling imagery, sharp wit and a compelling vision of the past. Bloom has created an extraordinary range of characters, settings and emotions. Absolutely stunning. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

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."

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 247 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812977793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812977790
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (218 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #470,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I loved the beginning of this book. I loved its faint Yiddish inflections, the bravery of its main character, the world Amy Bloom places her in, the sadness driving her. But then my heart started to sink as I realized she was going to keep Lillian going, on a Homeric journey, meeting one character after another like an odyssey, never staying in one place very long, rushing too quickly forward, and giving each new character an aria about their lost love. While reading the first 50 pages, I wrote emails to friends and family telling everyone to rush to buy this...then wrote back to say never mind. Then she won me back in the last 40 pages or so. There were things I really admired in the writing and things that didn't work at all -- I'm surprised an editor didn't give Bloom better advice, particularly about the sexual element that so oddly (and off-puttingly, often) appears in every experience, and also about the way she runs off with characters instead of sticking to the point. Every character is different, but each has such similar stories to tell that I found them uninteresting (and unreal) very quickly. It's hard to tell, too, if Bloom, meant to leave the inflection behind once Lillian leaves New York, or if the writer simply lost her way. It seemed like a glaring mistake to me (if Lillian has learned the English language on her travels, if that were made clear, maybe the loss of the inflected narration would have made more sense). Still, I found chunks of this to be a page-turner and moving. But to link these adventures together into a novel doesn't hide the fact that Bloom really is a short story writer. All in all, this doesn't satisfy as a novel, though I have high regard for a lot in it.
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Format: Paperback
...consider the following:

1) You're ok reading books that make a serious effort to historically locate human sexuality.

2) You recognize sex and desire are integral parts of our humanity and take many forms. This means you are comfortable reading scenes involving gay sex, sex as currency, and sex as love.

3) You're ok reading books that are not obviously character or plot driven. The best comparisons I can think of here are Jeanette Winterson or Tony Morrison. Bloom's language is not difficult but I want to warn you that the your particular reading psychology (taste) may work against you here. It is not surprising to me that so many readers had a difficult time trying to identify with Lillian. This book isn't about Lillian; Lillian is a vessel for a more general commentary the author is trying to make. I thought this was really obvious. Many readers are used to a more traditional book where the author does overtime to make the inner world of the protagonist alive so that the reader more easily identifies with the protagonist. Bloom doesn't really do anything like that. Lillian is what you make of her. Any conclusions or interpretations you take from her story are your entirely your own. Bloom makes no effort to push you any direction with regards to Lillian. Many readers find this disconcerting b/c they keep trying to force their expectations of how the book is supposed to read onto the text and become frustrated/disappointed that Lillian remains mysterious or that the book goes somewhere else. This can be observed in many other reviews for the book here.

4) You are ok with discontinuity in setting. Each location in the book is entirely new, independent of the previous ones, and contains its own set of characters.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rather than review, I'm going to make my observations:

1. The book transported me into the life and brain of a 22 year old Russian girl who had to flee Russia to America in the 1920s. She has lived through the slaughter of her family and arrives in NYC without anything but the dress she's wearing. The author does a great job of putting you into the girl's shoes and you feel numb, desperate, your survival instincts kick in and you become ready to do what it takes to survive. Some of these things aren't what you learned to do in church, and yet they must be done.

2. The book is full of fringe characters who live and barely survive in the time. She works as a seamstress, lives with cousins, sleeps on a couch, the floor, out in the wilderness, on a cot in jail, etc., over half the book. She meets prostitutes, men running away from the law, robbers, becomes friends with a gay man, spends time in a woman's correctional facility, etc. Overall, I felt that all of these characters seemed real for the time and you really are experiencing the world of the 1920s both in NYC and Alaska.

3. There were very frank and straight forward sexual experiences along the way. The feeling that it creates is that sex was almost less complicated and straight forward then than it is now. But we're a young, inexperienced girl from Russia who is desperate, has been married and likes men. So she is very submissive and doesn't worry too much about it when approached by men she likes. I've read that these scenes were a negative by some of the other reviewers. I would say that if you can handle an R rated movie, you can handle this and that for me, it added a human dimension that made you love and understand the main character, Lillian, very well.
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