Thursday, 11 August 2011

Far To Go

Title: Far to Go

Author: Alison Pick

Number of pages: 288

Started: 8 August 2011

Finished: 11 August 2011

Opening words:

The train will never arrive.

It winds into forever: shiny red cars, black cars, cattle cars, one after another. A red caboose and a Princess Elizabeth engine. The livestock cars, loosely linked, like the vertebrae of some long reptile’s spine. It reaches forward into the unknowable future, destined to move perpetually ahead, but with no destination in mind.

From the sky it looks inconsequential, a worm burrowing into the ground. And all the tiny people aboard look insignificant too: the postal workers and pastry chefs. The others and children.

The little ones.


I saw your face for the first time in a dream. It was so clear and true that meeting you in the flesh, decades later, somehow paled against it. You trembled against your own ideal. A child in both eras. Here and there. Then and now.

Read an Extract here

Plot summary:

FAR TO GO is a powerful and profoundly moving story about one family's epic journey to flee the Nazi occupation of their homeland in 1939, and above all to save the life of a six-year-old boy.

Pavel and Anneliese Bauer are affluent, secular Jews, whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of the German forces in Czechoslovakia. Desperate to avoid deportation, the Bauers flee to Prague with their six-year-old son, Pepik, and his beloved nanny, Marta. When the family try to flee without her to Paris, Marta betrays them to her Nazi boyfriend. But it is through Marta's determination that Pepik secures a place on a Kindertransport, though he never sees his parents or Marta again.

Inspired by Alison Pick's own grandparents who fled their native Czechoslovakia for Canada during the Second World War, FAR TO GO is a deeply personal and emotionally harrowing novel.

What I thought:

This was the second of the Booker longlist that I read. The book was about a Jewish family in Czechoslovakia at the time of Hitler’s invasion in 1939. It was the tale of a well to do Jewish family, who didn’t even really think of themselves as Jewish, and how they had to come to terms with the reality of their faith/ race, their nation being invaded, and the realities of their lives and livelihood being under threat.

The novel was inspired by the author’s family. Her relatives were caught in a similar scenario and faced the same fate as many of the characters in the book. It was an interesting view on history, but I felt that this novel only really engaged me when the kindertransport dilemma came into play (i.e. whether to pay for their son to be sent by train to safety in Britain). From this point onwards, I felt that the book came far more to life. The characters seemed more real and the plot took on more of a life. Until then, whilst the plot and scenarios were interesting, it lacked a certain something. I wondered whether this was partly because the book was in part of way of telling a true story in fictional form and that this meant that some of the story-telling elements were missing earlier on. I was also not sure about the way the book was concluded. The final chapter was, in essence, a summing up of all that had happened. I wasn’t convinced by this need to tie up all the loose ends. But, again, I suspect this was in part because the book was based on real family events, and perhaps the author’s need to tell as much of their story as she could.

I think the idea behind this book was good, and that the latter part of it was more engaging, but that it lacked somewhere in its delivery. Nonetheless, it was a sad tale and I can understand why the author wanted to make sure that it was told.


anothercookiecrumbles said...

WWII books have a special place in my literary life, and I really do want to read this one. I read a review somewhere saying it was just the same story re-told, but I guess there would be an element of that in any WWII book which has a child protagonist.

Thanks for the review.

Random Reflections said...

anothercookiecrumbles - I did perhaps think that the story woudl be more original. When I heard it was about the kindertransport I thought it would be more of a feature of the book, but I thought it was a bit of a side story.

I wonder if that was because it was important to the author to tell her families' story though.