Summary and book reviews of Away by Amy Bloom

Away

A Novel

By Amy Bloom

Away
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Aug 2007,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2008,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Chapter 1

And Lost There, a Golden Feather in a Foreign, Foreign Land

It is always like this: the best parties are made by people in trouble.

There are one hundred and fifty girls lining the sidewalk outside the Goldfadn Theatre. They spill into the street and down to the corners and Lillian Leyb, who has spent her first thirty-five days in this country ripping stitches out of navy silk flowers until her hands were dyed blue, thinks that it is like an all-girl Ellis Island: American-looking girls chewing gum, kicking their high heels against the broken pavement, and girls so green they’re still wearing fringed brown shawls over their braided hair. The street is like her village on market day, times a million. A boy playing a harp; a man with an accordion and a terrible, patchy little animal; a woman selling straw brooms from a basket strapped to her back, making a giant fan behind her head; a colored man singing in a pink suit and black shoes with pink spats; and tired ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Dreams are a recurring theme in the novel. What are Lillian’s 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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

On a purely formal level, Away is stunning, and succeeds as a gleaming showcase for Amy Bloom's considerable talents. However, what makes Away an up-all-night read is its vitality, the breath that makes it all come alive. It’s a tight story – 235 pages span three years and a cast of characters each worthy of their own novel; but the focus is clear - Bloom’s spotlight pans where it needs to, and then stops on a dime, showing you where to look, deep at the quick of the story, where it pulses with life.   (Reviewed by Lucia Silva).

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Media Reviews
The Guardian (UK) - Liz Hoggard

[A] page-turner. At only 240 pages, it has the rich texture of an epic, but Bloom doesn't hang about. Like her heroine, Lillian Leyb, she crosses cultures and continents at a breakneck pace, only pausing when Lillian has to barter her skills (or her body) for the next leg of the journey.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bloom has created an extraordinary range of characters, settings and emotions. Absolutely stunning.

USA Today - Jocelyn McClurg

[T]here are some wonderful characters and scenes in Amy Bloom's novel about a young Russian Jewish immigrant trying to make a new life in America after the massacre of her family, but Away never transported me to the transcendent heights this talented writer hopes to achieve.

The Daily News - Jane H Furse

In just 248 pages of astonishing prose, Bloom covers vast emotional (and geographic) terrain, giving a familiar story epic proportions.

The Boston Globe - Elinor Lipman

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. A marvelously sly observer of all things human, she has the confidence to write, "Red McGann smiles. It is not the worst smile she will ever see, but it has the kind of tenderness you find on the faces of boys who love their dogs and kick them." Plain, unostentatious words? They accrue on every page into artful and irresistible fiction.

The Washington Post - Ron Charles

[W]hat begins as a paean to the immigrant spirit in a city of millions is ultimately a gasp of wonder at the persistence of love, even in the remotest spot on earth. Hang on.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin

It is accessible to the point of pure enthrallment without compromising its eloquence or thematic strength. Yet it is also a classic page-turner, one that delivers a relentlessly good read.

The Seattle Times - Richard Wallace

As one of our most accomplished short-story writers, Bloom has demonstrated time and again in her fiction how transformative this multidimensional emotion called love can be, shaping unlikely friendships, challenging whom we think people are. Bloom understands the complexity of human bonding. Her gift — beyond her ability to write interesting, surprising sentences — is to develop situations where people open up, often during moments of loss and tragedy, certainly in rough times, and create solutions to their desires and pain that aren't readily obvious.

The San Francisco Chronicle - Helen McAlpin

Bloom's cryptic title doesn't do her book justice, but there's little else that doesn't work in this exquisitely unsentimental novel about exile, hope and love in its various incarnations - maternal, romantic, sexual, platonic, inconvenient, unruly, unreasonable, abiding.

Reader Reviews
Janet Tarasovic

Swept Away
Lillian Leyb is a remarkable heroine whose passion, courage, and determination are inspiring. Equally enthralling are the dozen characters whose lives intersect with hers—actors, immigrants, jailbirds, train porters, prostitutes, constables, woodsmen...   Read More

J. Arnold

Outstanding 2nd Novel!
Amy Bloom’s enthralling second novel, Away, evokes Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. Both books explore the seemingly impossible journeys of two protagonists longing for love, redemption, and identify associated with memories. Arresting characters and...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Yiddish Theatre in America

(Away opens with Lillian arriving in New York in 1924, where she quickly finds a job as a seamstress for a famous Yiddish theatre, and becomes the mistress of its star actor.)

More than 200 Yiddish theatre troupes performed in the United States between 1890 and 1940 (photo of a theater group in 1909). In their heyday in the 1920s, twelve troupes resided in New York City alone, with 22 Yiddish theatres on the Lower East Side, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. Their repertoires spanned a variety of genres including operetta, musical comedy, revues, melodrama and Yiddish adaptations of Shakespeare. Audiences came to laugh and be entertained, but a vibrant literary culture also led to adaptations of ...

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