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Book Review: Away

Written by eastern writer on Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Away is the extraordinary story of young Lillian Leyb. Her family destroyed in a Russian pogrom, Lillian comes to America alone, determined to make her way. In 1920s New York she is taken under the wing of Mr Reuben Burstein, the famous Impresario and his matinee-idol son Meyer. But then her wily cousin Raisele arrives with some unexpected news about Lillian's young daughter Sophie. Driven by a wild hope, Lillian sets off on an odyssey across America, travelling from New York's Lower East Side to Seattle's Skid Row and up to Alaska, along the fabled Telegraph Trail towards Siberia.

Amy Bloom's first novel for eight years revitalises the American road trip novel, from the perspective of a vulnerable but spirited woman. It paints a vivid, earthy and surprising picture of 1920s America, its smells and textures, its population of drifters and con artists, pimps and prostitutes.

Away is storytelling at its finest – epic in sweep, but intimate and psychologically acute, moving but unsentimental. Like the novels of Sarah Waters, it is both richly authentic in its period detail, and fresh and contemporary in its style. But above all Bloom has created an unforgettable character in Lillian Leyb – her voice, haunted/damaged yet innocent, passionate, witty and unpretentious, is so believable and strong that her presence lingers long after the novel ends.


“An urgent, riveting, fabulously entertaining road trip of a novel, AWAY grabs you by the throat from the first page to the last, breaks your heart and shakes all your senses awake”
— Emma Donaghue

“Raunchy, funny, and touching. Away is an elegant window into the perils of invention and reinvention in New York in the twenties. 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

“I haven’t read a novel in a long time where I genuinely wanted to get back to it, just to sit down and read for the pure joy of it. It 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 what great journeys always do – she continues. A marvelous book.”
— Colum McCann, author of Zoli

“… a strong, vibrant story, brittle with its underlying tragedy. And fascinating for the pieces of history it reveals along the way”
— Georgina Harding, author of The Solitude of Thomas Cave

“Harrowing, intense and deeply moving, this is a story about surviving the worst nightmares that history bequeaths us. I had to keep reading, willing Lillian to win through, and hoping that the strengths of courage, humour and kindness would prevail. Even as my hopes were realised, I was subtly reminded that this is a world where nothing can ever be quite certain or secure”
— Margaret Elphinstone

"Away is a vibrant, tender novel to savor"
— Waterstone's Books Quarterly

"By inverting it (the immigrants tale) she creates a story altogether richer, stranger and more true ... sentences that demand to be savoured and reread"
— Naomi Alderman, Financial Times

"Amy Bloom’s second novel begins with a promising brilliance … Bloom can be seen, alongside Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer and Gary Shteyngart, as evincing a resurgent willingness among Jewish-American writers to put Jewish themes at the centre of their novels: an attitude which sets them apart from both the late-period ouptut (with obvious exceptions) of Bellow and Roth, and the fiction of an intervening generation also intent on universality … All three male novelists follow Bellow and Roth in making one man’s extraordinary voice what you remember most about their novels … In Away, you remember an extraordinary woman and her successes and mishaps: it reproduces the picaresque form of Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March but not its monological moxie, and gives it a female twist. Asking to be measured against such a masterpiece involves Lilian-like audacity, but Amy Bloom’s splendid novel can stand the comparison."
— John Dugdale, Literary Review

"Alice Hoffman called her "a writer of amazing skill, intelligence and compassion". Frankly, this understates the case. At her dazzling best - and Away, Bloom's second novel, shows her at the height of her powers - she isn't just skilful, smart and compassionate; she is incandescent. At such moments she lights the page; her occasions of dazzle sometimes stretch across a whole chapter. This comes from Bloom's unswerving grasp of how and where her tale is headed, but mostly from an intuitive understanding of her heroine ... This is Isaac Bashevis Singer meets Cynthia Ozick ... a masterpiece of construction, which does that rare thing: it moves the reader from knowledge and feeling about its characters, into real caring. No higher estimate exists of the writer's art"
— Tom Adair, The Scotsman


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