Sunday, September 12, 2010
FAR TO GO by Alison Pick (2010)
I became a fan of Pick's prose with her first novel THE SWEET EDGE, a he said/she said story reminiscent of Carol Shields' HAPPENSTANCE, so I was curious to see if this new one, recently launched, met my expectations.
FAR TO GO is certainly a more personal book, inspired as it is by the journey of Pick's own grandparents out of Czechoslovakia during WWII, Europe's darkest hour. I was intrigued by the framing techniques used with lists of the Shoah dead and a short passage from an omniscient narrator referring to a train that "will never arrive," one that is both literal and symbolic.
The story proper finds Pavel and Anneliese Bauer, secular affluent Jews, and their young son Pepik and his nanny Marta with their lives upturned by the German occupation. Fearing deportation, they flee to Prague and secure passage for 6 year old Pepik on a Kinderstransport to Scotland where he is temporarily housed with a family that has real troubles of their own. Pavel and Anneliese write positive loving letters to Pepik, though are uncertain that he ever receives them since they never receive a note in return, unlike some of their friends whose own children manage to reassure them that they are being cared for by their surrogate families.
With the tentative thread of a present-day narrator, we learn stitch by stitch, story by story what became of Pepik, his parents and Marta in a way that is harrowing, occasionally hopeful, and always emotionally true.
We are often warned not to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of FAR TO GO, be prepared to do just that. It is even more exquisite between the pages than its gorgeous gem-toned cover art suggests.