Synopses & Reviews
Panoramic in scope, Away
is the epic and intimate story of young Lillian Leyb, a dangerous innocent, an accidental heroine. When her family is destroyed in a Russian pogrom, Lillian comes to America alone, determined to make her way in a new land. When word comes that her daughter, Sophie, might still be alive, Lillian embarks on an odyssey that takes her from the world of the Yiddish theater on New York's Lower East Side, to Seattle's Jazz District, and up to Alaska, along the fabled Telegraph Trail toward Siberia.
All of the qualities readers love in Amy Bloom's work her humor and wit, her elegant and irreverent language, her unflinching understanding of passion and the human heart come together in the embrace of this brilliant novel, which is at once heartbreaking, romantic, and completely unforgettable.
"'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 after receiving word that Sophie is living in Siberia, 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.' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
"Away is a modest name for a book as gloriously transporting as Amy Bloom's new novel. Alive with incident and unforgettable characters, it sparkles and illuminates as brilliantly as it entertains....[A] literary triumph..." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"[Bloom's] execution is exquisite, and exquisite execution is rare....The pleasures of Away are the ordinary pleasures of extraordinary novels: finely wrought prose, vivid characters, delectable details....Working comfortably within a conventional form, she renews and redeems it." Lionel Shriver, The Los Angeles Times
"[A] memorable, panoramic novel...that encapsulate[s] all the cultural richness that newcomers contributed to this nation of immigrants....[L]ike the best of artists, Bloom...tells the truth freely, and with a warmth that melts all fears. (Grade: A)" Entertainment Weekly
"[A] magnificent, transcendent work of the imagination. It is the first must-read novel of the fall....Bloom has always been an economical writer more attuned to characters' lives than the backdrop against which they unfold. In Away, however, she manages to do both..." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[T]his whole novel reads like dry wood bursting into flame: desperate and impassioned, erotic and moving absolutely hypnotic....The whole saga hurtles along, a rush of horrible, remarkable ordeals..." Ron Charles, The Washington Post Book World
"This beautiful, effulgent book sped me forward word by word, out of the room I was in and into Amy Bloom's world. This is a wonderful novel, a cosmos that transcends its time period and grabs us without compromise. Lillian's astonishing journey, driven by a mother's love, will be with me for a long, long time." Ron Carlson, author of The Speed of Light
"I haven't read a novel in a long time that I genuinely wanted to get back to, just to sit down and read for the pure joy of it. Away is a book full of tender wisdom, brawling insight, sharp-edged humor and if it's possible a lovely, wayward precision. Amy Bloom has created an unforgettable cast of characters. Lillian, the heroine, or anti-heroine, somehow always manages to do what great journeys always do continue. A marvelous book." Colum McCann, author of Zoli
"Raunchy, funny, and touching, Away is an elegant window into the perils of self-invention and reinvention in New York in the 1920s. Amy Bloom's heroine, Lillian, is an unforgettable young woman on a quest to make her life whole and to belong in an unstable, yet fascinating, new American world." Caryl Phillips, author of A Distant Shore
"Amy Bloom's work has always revolved around what love and desire can make us do. In Away, she paints filial love on an immense geographic and historical canvas. The result, a story of loss and survival, is gripping." Christopher Tilghman, author of Roads of the Heart
"The vividness and tenderness with which Bloom tells this story is stunning. Bloom...has an innate understanding of the complexity of the human heart and in Lillian, she has created her most compelling character yet." Hartford Courant
"Amy Bloom's new book is an eventful novel. In its 236 pages are countless thefts, prostitutions, murders and suicides....Bloom's apparent research into the East Village, Jewish theater and life in New York is fascinating, worth a novel of its own." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Once in a great while, a work of art...will register in the chest cavity, producing an ache of recognition and pleasure. Away...is such a book....With so much of contemporary fiction driven on the rails of dialogue...Bloom instead builds a book out of what goes unsaid but is vividly understood." Cleveland Plain Dealer
In this brilliant new novel, which is at once heartbreaking, romantic, and completely unforgettable, Bloom pens the epic and intimate story of young Lillian Leyb, who after her family is destroyed in a Russian pogrom comes to America alone, determined to make her way in a new land.
About the Author
Amy Bloom is the author of Come to Me, a National Book Award finalist; A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Love Invents Us; and Normal. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Short Stories, The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, and many other anthologies here and abroad. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, Slate, and Salon, among other publications, and has won a National Magazine Award. Bloom teaches creative writing at Yale University.
Reading Group Guide
1. Dreams are a recurring theme in the novel. What are Lillians dreams, both literal and metaphorical? How do these illustrate or inform the larger subject of the American dream?
2. Much of the novel centers around self-invention and reinvention. Can you identify some characters who invent themselves over the course of the novel? Which characters are successful? Which characters are unable to complete the process?
3. According to folktales, “when you save the golden fish, the turbaned djinn, the talking cat, he is yours forever” (p. 43). Which characters in the novel are saved, in one way or another? Which characters do the saving?
4. “Not that she is mine. That I am hers,” Lillian says, describing her love for Sophie
(p. 79). In many ways, love is the primary engine of the plot. How does love define, inspire, and compel characters in the novel? What are some of the things characters do for love? Do you think that love is portrayed in the novel as a wholly positive force?
5. Contrast Yaakovs story with Lillians. How do they each handle the loss of spouse and children, and how are they changed?
6. Mythology–both the mythology of individuals and of cultures–is an important motivator in the novel. Which stories or beliefs drive different characters? How do established myths inform the journeys taken and the challenges faced by Lillian as she crosses the American continent?
7. During Lillians journey, there are key points at which she is required to demonstrate her allegiance as either a native or a foreigner, insider or outsider. Can you identify some of these moments? At the end of the novel, how complete is Lillians assimilation?
8. Relationships between family members, particularly parents and children, play an important role in the novel. Compare and contrast the relationships between Lillian and Sophie, Reuben and Meyer, Chinky and the Changs. What is distinct about each family? Are there similarities?
9. How are sexuality and physical love portrayed in the novel? Consider Lillians relationship with the Bursteins, Chinkys relationship with Mrs. Mortimer, and Gumdrops relationship with Snooky Salt, as well as Lillians relationship with John Bishop and Chinkys relationship with Cleveland Munson.
10. What kind of person is Lillian? What do we learn, throughout the novel, about her passions and prejudices? Do you think Lillian is right when she says that she is
lucky (p. 4)?
11. The omniscient third-person narrator of the novel is able to jump forward and backward in time and between parallel narratives. What is the purpose of this technique? Why does the author want us to know what happened to Sophie, even though Lillian herself never learns? Do you think Lillian ever stopped looking for Sophie?
12. The metaphors and descriptive images in this novel are unique. Can you point out a few effective metaphors that helped the novel come alive for you as a reader?
13. What significance do the chapter titles have? What are they derived from, and what do they tell the reader about what happens in the novel? Why did Bloom title her novel Away?