Book Review: Far To Go by Alison Pick

In three words:

Moving, powerful, emotional

 

What I thought:

Once in a while a book comes along that unexpectidly blows you away. This is that book.

Far to Go is set in Czechoslovaki in 1938, just before the outbreak of WW2. Pavel and Anneliese Bauer live with their 5 year old son, Pepik, in a suburban appartment in the northern region of Sudetenland. They own a factory, they have money, enjoy nights in at the theatre and employ a live-in nanny, Marta, to look after their son. They have a life – a good one – that is until the Nazi occupation and annexation of their homeland.

What I found really worked with this book is that we were shown an ordinary family – secular Jews in fact – which I believe added to the confusion of why they were being persecuted; they were just like their friends, their neighbours, their colleagues; they celebrated Christmas, they didn’t follow the customs of the Jewish faith. The fact that they were secular Jews also allowed the author (and reader) to try to understand and question how the war would impact their lives – while Anneliese was eager to shed thier history, Pavel found himself becoming increasingly fervent and proud of his heritige. Another person struggling with her own questions and feelings was Marta the nanny who, despite not being Jewish herself, had to listen to gossip and speculation about the family she lived with and loved and even horrified herself by randomly thinking comments like “dirty Jew” in her head. Marta is really the central character in Far To Go and her actions and decisions have repercussions on the Bauer family that she would have never seen coming; but again we are left to question – what would we have done?

Far To Go deals with a period of history that I was not so familiar with: Czechoslovakia before the war. The characters we are walking hand in hand with through the pages have no idea what is coming:  they’ve never had cause to distrust or suspect their best friends before, they don’t understand why they have to give up their businesses and livelihoods, they don’t see  why they should have to leave their homes and they certainly have never heard of death camps before. This is all to come; this is the future and they are living in ignorance of what awaits them.

Once Pavel and Anneliese  have relented and moved to Prague (while they still can) they become increasingly aware that they have to send Pepik away on the Kindertransport to a family in the UK to look after him “just for a few weeks or months”.  The scenes on the platform are heartbreaking. The gentleness of the narritive and the lack of melodrama in Far To Go doesn’t mean that these aren’t some of the most emotionally powerful pages I have ever read. I don’t have children and yet to put myself squarely in the book with those parents at that moment just about broke my heart; it’s  almost beyond comprehension. I could see their little faces at the window, alone and not understanding why they were being sent away.

There is no room for flowery prose in this book; it’s sparse and no words are wasted. The empathy I felt for each person in this book, however, was so palpable I could almost taste it – it’s a gifted writer who can make a reader feel as they do here without relying on sensationalism and melodrama. You will question every one of the characters actions; you will ache for them, you will hope for them knowing that there is no hope, you will close the book and know that they were just a few people out of 6 million. Six million!

Verdict: Wow. Just wow. Highly, highly recommended.

(source: I received this book for review from Headline Review)