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Far to Go: A Novel Paperback – April 19, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
In her second novel (after The Sweet Edge), Pick tackles the Holocaust with the story of a young Jewish family struggling to survive as the Nazis invade Czechoslovakia. Throughout 1938 and 1939, Pavel and Anneliese Bauer endure increasingly terrifying attacks on their dignity, freedom, and lives, clinging to a hope that the madness will soon end. Meanwhile, a present-day Holocaust historian (who remains awkwardly unidentified for some time), specializing in the Kindertransport and the many children it helped to escape from Czechoslovakia, takes a personal interest in the Bauers. Letters culled from the historian's files, written by people who were close to the Bauers, effectively punctuate the novel, but Pick's shuffling gamble with point-of-view produces mixed results. For instance, Marta, who both propels the tale and plays a significant role in it, is sometimes so naïve as to be unconvincing. But period details are authentic and well presented, as are the family's suffering and grief. (Apr.)
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From the Back Cover
The Man Booker Prize finalist Far to Go by acclaimed author Alison Pick is historical fiction at its very best.
When Czechoslovakia relinquishes the Sudetenland to Hitler, the powerful influence of Nazi propaganda sweeps through towns and villages like a sinister vanguard of the Reich's advancing army. A fiercely patriotic secular Jew, Pavel Bauer is helpless to prevent his world from unraveling as first his government, then his business partners, then his neighbors turn their back on his affluent, once-beloved family. Only the Bauers' adoring governess, Marta, sticks by Pavel, his wife, Anneliese, and their little son, Pepik, bound by her deep affection for her employers and friends. But when Marta learns of their impending betrayal at the hands of her lover, Ernst, Pavel's best friend, she is paralyzed by her own fear of discovery—even as the endangered family for whom she cares so deeply struggles with the most difficult decision of their lives.
Interwoven with a present-day narrative that gradually reveals the fate of the Bauer family during and after the war, Far to Go is a riveting family epic, love story, and psychological drama.
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The novel has two narrators. One, whose identity is a mystery until the end, is a Holocaust scholar collecting information on children who were placed on the Kindertransports, most of whom never saw their parents again. The other is Marta, a gentile governess in the home of Pavel and Anneliese Bauer, well-to-do Czech Jews who cannot believe that the rise of Hitler will threaten them personally. At the last moment, they put their only child, Pepik, on a Kindertransport to England. The novel shifts back and forth between these two narrators, and between a recent time and the past.
The time shifts, the mystery narrator, and the complicated fate of Pepik are devices intended to help tell a story whose general outlines are, of course, familiar. (The scholar-narrator tells us early on what happens to the Bauers, whose attempts to get out of Prague are unsuccessful.) Telling the story through the eyes of Marta also offers a somewhat different perspective, as she is torn between her loyalty to the Bauers, especially Pepik, whom she loves, and her lover, an employee at the Bauer factory whose sympathies turn out to be with the Nazis.
While the historical and period details of the novel are carefully drawn, the character of Marta is less compelling, perhaps because she is not very interesting. Although the novel is generally well written, the simplicity and passivity of Marta sometimes strain credulity. For example, a helpful neighborhood tailor who is an observant Jew has apparently taken it upon himself to enlighten Marta about Jewish holidays and customs. When he is beaten to death on Kristallnacht, she watches through a slit in the curtains with a degree of equanimity that is hard to believe.
As I was reading "Far to Go," I thought about whom I might recommend it to. It is a good book, but there are better contemporary novels about the Holocaust, like Nicole Krauss's "The History of Love" and "Great House" and Jonathan Safran Foer's "Everything is Illuminated." There is also an excellent documentary on DVD about the Kindertransport entitled "Into the Arms of Strangers." However, this novel would be very useful for high school teachers who often encounter the question "Why didn't the Jews just leave?" "Far to Go" is a novel that closely explores the complex ties of patriotism, financial commitments, and family bonds, among other things, that kept many from leaving until it was too late. I don't mean that this is a novel only for teenagers, but it would be a good novel to put on a reading list for interested students. It is also a good story if you would like to know more about the Kindertransports.
I don't know how Alison Pick did it in Far to Go but she really nailed it for me - the closest I've ever gotten to feeling, not just reading, about the Holocaust - the betrayal, deceit, thievery, the humiliation, violence, loss, inability to grieve, the isolation, and trickery. Like the Nazi soldiers telling the children they'd get chocolate on their way to the gas chambers . . .
The other concept I struggle with is how a cultured race could use all their brainpower for such evil. Don't get me started . . .
All I can say is, if you're a Jew or if you're not a Jew but interested in what it was like during this dark time, read the book. It's that good.