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Praise for Away
PRAISE FOR AWAY
“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… AWAY is a literary triumph, a book-club must and a popular novel destined for wide readership. 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.”
–NEW YORK TIMES
“Amy Bloom knows the urgency of love. As a practicing psychotherapist, she must have heard that urgency in her patients’ stories, and in 1993 when she broke onto the literary scene with Come To Me, we heard it in hers. She has never strayed from that theme…Bloom writes with extraordinary care about people caught in emotional and physical crosswinds: desires they can’t satisfy, illnesses they can’t survive, and–always–love that exceeds the boundaries of this world…this whole novel reads like dry wood bursting into flame: desperate and impassioned, erotic and moving–absolutely hypnotic.”
–COVER OF WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD
“With her sly sense of humor and flair for precise, elegant language, acclaimed author Bloom fashions a spellbinding story of courage and unwavering optimism in the face of daunting odds.”
“Her execution is exquisite, and exquisite execution is rare–not only in books but (alas) in almost any undertaking…The pleasures of AWAY are the ordinary pleasures of extraordinary novels: finely wrought prose, vivid characters, delectable details. There’s a soft-smile, along-the-way humor…A practicing psychotherapist, this author combines eloquence with insight.”
–COVER OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK WORLD
“By the end of this memorable, panoramic novel, Bloom transforms the musts in Lillian’s life into a Scheherazade-like procession of cans that encapsulate all the cultural richness that newcomers contributed to this nation of immigrants in the early part of the 20th century. Grade: A”
“Far and away one of the best books of the year… Once in a great while, a work of art–a poem, a painting, a book–will register in the chest cavity, producing an ache of recognition and pleasure. AWAY by Amy Bloom is such a book… a surprising, tough and incandescent book.”
–CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER
“Amy Bloom is blessed with a generous heart and a brilliant imagination, which is evident once again in her fifth and best book so far, AWAY…The vividness and tenderness with which Bloom tells this story is stunning. Bloom, who teaches writing at Yale University and is also a practicing psychotherapist, has an innate understanding of the complexity of the human heart and in Lillian, she has created her most compelling character yet.”
“So vivid and engaging, so delicious in tone, that a reader experiences an immediate thrill, the all-too-rare one that signals: I am in excellent hands here… The language that Bloom employs to tell Lillian’s story is immediate, colorful, and unafraid to be plain…It’s not easy to be lyrical, funny, and brilliant all at once, and Bloom is.”
“Rousing, utterly absorbing… a compact epic, an adventure story, a survival tale and an incredible journey wrapped up in a historical novel cloaked in a love story… exquisitely unsentimental novel about exile, hope and love in its various incarnations — maternal, romantic, sexual, platonic, inconvenient, unruly, unreasonable, abiding.”
–SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
“A powerful new novel of loss and love, of hope and struggle…amazing…AWAY is a short novel, but it feels packed to the rafters with fully-realized character, with America, with all the things that don’t fit inside the vessel we’ve taken to calling the American Dream…unforgettable.”
–LOUISVILLE COURIER JOURNAL
“Blom executes Lillian’s tale with the same fresh eye with which a master cinematographer captures a familiar landscape…In just 248 pages of astonishing prose, Bloom covers vast emotional (and geographic) terrain, giving a familiar story epic proportions.”
–NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
“Fascinating…a tough, engaging book.”
“Outstanding…A 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
“Summary doesn’t do justice to this compact epic’s richness of episode and characterization, nor to the exemplary skill with which Bloom increases her story’s resonance through dramatic foreshadowing of what lies ahead for her grifters and whores and romantic visionaries and stubborn, hard-bitten adventurers. Echoes of Ragtime, Cold Mountain and Irving Howe’s World of Our Fathers, in an amazingly dense, impressively original novel.”
– KIRKUS REVIEWS, STARRED REVIEW
“A masterly second novel…the writing is spare and tender, with revelatory doses of irony….A novel this gorgeous doesn’t need humor, but what’s better than laughing off a good cry? AWAY is a story to sink your heart into.”
“Bloom attempts a sweeping historical epic and succeeds…Haunting.”
“A novel laced with heartache, but also a strong thread of hope.”
“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
A Conversation with Amy Bloom
Random House Reader’s Circle: Away is loosely based on a real woman in history. Can you tell us a bit about her life, and how you came upon her story? Ultimately, how did you make her story your own?
Amy Bloom: I don’t know that I’d call Lillian Alling a “real woman in history.” There’ve always been bits and fragments of a story about a foreign woman, mute or silent by choice, who came up the Telegraph Trail, determined to walk to Russia. There are no records of her arriving in Ellis Island and no records of her life in Alaska and, of course, one of the first questions is: If she didn’t speak, how did they know where she was going? I ignored all the fanciful parts and also all the shoddy investigations into her story (this was the golden age of yellow journalism–when whole wars were made up to sell papers) and thought instead: If you weren’t crazy or particularly adventurous, why would you make this extraordinary trip? And I thought, I would only do it for love.
RHRC: Lillian Leyb’s journey takes her across the globe, from Russia to New York’s Lower East Side, to Seattle, to Alaska, to Siberia. Did you chart out her epic journey before writing? How did you conceive the arc of the novel?
AB: I sat down with a former student and a bottle of wine and dictated a forty-page outline to him. We wrapped it up at about four in the morning. The outline included a million unanswered questions, which led to all my research, and it also provided the entrances and exits of some of my favorite characters. This journey is as much about Lillian becoming alive again, and becoming an American, as it is about anything else.
RHRC: Away captures the mood of the Roaring Twenties, both in the rhythms of your language and in the atmosphere that you create. What sort of historical research did you undertake? What about the period captured your imagination to begin with?
AB: The Roaring Twenties only roared for some people. For lots of working people, it was a fast-paced world, but not one with hip flasks and flappers. The thing that truly captured my imagination was the way in which the twenties were so much like our modern world; they had everything we had (corruption, advertising, rapid transit, the cult of celebrity, expanded sense of sexuality) except television and computers. I researched in libraries from Alaska (which has extraordinary archives of first-person accounts) to Yale’s Sterling Library (which is just around the corner from a good cup of coffee) to making use, like everyone else, of all the search engines.
RHRC: This novel is filled with so many colorful characters, from the theater idol, Meyer Burstein, to the hardscrabble call girl, Gumdrop, to the loveable convict, Chinky Chang. Do you have a favorite character in the novel? Whose voice stands out to you most, and why?
AB: I love them all and they are all parts of me. My elegant sister, a hardworking and very upright lawyer says, “Gumdrop, c’est moi.” Gumdrop’s conflicts between love and practicality appeal to me, as does Chinky’s capacity to fall in love instantly. I also love Arthur Gilpin and his second wife, Lorena, a cardsharp who chooses love over glamour and money. The voice that is always with me is the omniscient narrator, the God’s Eye.
RHRC: The third-person omniscient narrator allows the novel to jump forward and backward in time and between parallel narratives. Tell us a little bit about your decision to use this technique. Why did you want the reader to know what happened to Sophie, even though Lillian herself never learns? Do you think Lillian ever stopped looking for Sophie?
AB:The omniscient narrator is God’s Eye on this world.The Eye can see into the past, into the future, and make connections that would not be available to the characters (Gumdrop doesn’t know that she is like Lenin). Lillian stops looking for Sophie, but never stops watching for her, never completely gives up the habit of holding her breath when she sees a brown braid tied with a blue ribbon, even fifty years after they have last seen each other. We see what happens to Sophie, as we do with all of the characters; what will be is part of the story.
RHRC: What significance do the chapter titles have? What are they derived from? And can you tell us why you decided to call the novel Away?
AB: Each of the chapter titles is a song title. The first half are Yiddish or Russian lullabies; the second half are American folk songs or Christian hymns. The book’s title is simple, to balance the complexity of the plot. It’s also one of those words that has in it both coming and going. I go away, I come away; I leave here, to go away and must go away again, in order to come home.
RHRC: As the author of a number of award-winning short story collections including Come to Me and A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, how did you approach writing a novel? Do you find it more challenging, or more freeing, to write in a longer narrative form?
AB: I approached writing this nove
l as I would a large, dangerous animal whom it might be possible to work with, if not to tame. I tried to apply the discipline of my short story writing (no longueurs, no self-indulgent riffs or pointless dialogue) to the novel, so that it would be dense, but not too long, full of characters but not baggy.
RHRC: We’d love to know what you’ll be working on next–can you share any details of your next book?
AB: It’s set in pre—World War Two America, in both the Boston Brahmin part of Beacon Hill and the make-it-up-as-we-go world of Hollywood at that time. At the center are two half-sisters, their mothers, and their father.
Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks
Jun 24, 2008
| 256 Pages
| 5-3/16 x 8
| ISBN 9780812977790
Published by Random House
Aug 21, 2007
| 256 Pages
| ISBN 9781588366498