Far to Go by Alison Pick

Czechoslovakia. 1938. War is coming, and invasion by Germany seems inevitable.

Pavel and Anneliese Bauer think that they will be safe. That their young son, Pepik, will be safe. They are affluent, successful, good people.

Yes, they are Jews, but they are secular Jews, not practicing the faith.

But of course they won’t be safe. And they will have to make painful decisions about what to do, about how best to protect their son.

Alison Pick tells their story simply and clearly. She picks out details beautifully. Day to day details of an ordinary family that has to carry on, through a terrible period in their country’s history.

Telling her story in the third person, through the eyes of Marta, Pepik’s gentile nanny was, I think, a wise decision. It pulled me away from the story just a little, and allowed me to see it more clearly.

And it was the most effective way to show so many different emotions and reactions.

At first Pavel wanted to stand his ground, acknowledge his Jewish heritage, believing that right will prevail.  Anneliese was more pragmatic, eager to cast off her Jewishness and escape. And Marta worried about her young charge, and about her own future. And she made some bad decisions.

They all made bad decisions. Bcause they were in an impossible, unprecedented situation. Because they had no idea what their futures might hold.

Their characters were so well drawn. They were utterly believable, complex, fallible human beings.

My heart nearly broke when Pepik was sent away to safety on the Kindertransport. I understood why, but he didn’t understand, he didn’t want to go and, like so many other children, he had to be torn away.

The whole story was painful to watch, because the situation was so impossible.  And yet the pages turned quickly. Because, though I feared the worst, I had to know.

There was just one weak link: the contemporary framing story. It lacked the clarity of the main narrative, the different styles felt mismatched, and I really wasn’t sure what was going on.

In the end though it made sense, and I understood what the author was doing.

A flaw, but not a fatal flaw.

Far to Go is a moving, human story. A different view of a period that has been written about so much.

Alison Pick has built well on both her own family history and her research.

18 responses

  1. Always going to be a tough subject to even read about. However much has been written, it is still a very sensitive issue. Glad you liked the book.

  2. I have a copy of this on its way to me right now which I’m pleased about as it has just been longlisted for the Booker. I’m looking forward to it, although I’m sure it will make me very sad.

    • It is sad watching characters who you know will suffer, but Alison Pick draws you into their lives and you will be caught up. I’m sure you will be glad you placed an order.

  3. I read this one a while back and enjoyed it with reservations. I was quite surprised to see it nominated for the Booker though; it was good but I didn’t find it any more special than any of the rest of the multitude of other novels set in the Second World War. I guess I will never understand what makes something ‘literary’. What do you think?

    • There do seem to be a lot of WW2 novels around at the moment, and though this one had some wonderful qualities I’m not sure I would have picked it above the others. It felt more like a quality mainstream novel than a literary novel to me. I’m pleased that it will have more attention, but I don’t expect to see it on the shortlist.

    • Thank you for the link. The main story was so strong, and I was sorry that the contemporary one couldn’t match it.

  4. I have kept looking at this book, but not quite sure. Now having read your review, I think I will definitely give it a go.

    I do enjoy stories based around the Second World War, and more so when they tackle not the usual subject matter.

    • I’ve read a lot of fiction set around WW2, but this was a little different. You do need to track down a copy Jo!

  5. I’m really looking forward to this one, and I’m thrilled a copy has already come in for me at the library. I’ve been quite drawn to stories about the human impacts of war lately, and it sounds like I’m in for a treat.

  6. I enjoyed this book too, though like Katie I wasn’t expecting to see it on the Booker longlist. I agree that the framing story was very confusing and the book’s one weakness, but luckily everything became clear by the end!

    • Just a little more clarity, and simplicity, would have made a world of difference. To my way of thinking there was nothing wrong with the concept, just the execution.

  7. It is interesting to read your review. I gave up on this book today and noticed many of the flaws you mention (framing issues + confusion at start). I can see that it has many positives, but the story seemed too similar to the 100s of other WWII books out there. It didn’t do enough to make me want to read on. I am vaguely interested in how things become clear at the end, but I’d rather spend 30 seconds asking someone than several hours reading it. Such a shame 😦

  8. Pingback: Far to Go – Alison Pick « The Book Jotter

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