I just re-read Ron Charles’s review on Amy Bloom’s Away for the Washington Post and it makes me want to read the book again. It’s a lovely tribute to a book that doesn’t thrive on dramatic and overwrought emotions. Rather, it stirs me with its stillness, its tenderness. I have said it before, but I shall say it again. Away is a quiet book, the way qualities like compassion and empathy are silent – but keenly felt.
In a nutshell: protagonist Lillian Leyb is a Russian-Jewish immigrant in New York in the 1930s. She is a survivor of a massacre that bereft her of her family. She works as a seamstress, and later plays mistress to a pair of prosperous father and son. Later, through a distant cousin, she finds out her daughter might still be alive and has been adopted by a family in Siberia. So she abandons the life she has reclaimed for herself in New York, and heads off in her quest for her daughter.
When asked why Lillian is determined to undertake this mad journey for her daughter:
"Because she belongs to you?" he asks. "Is that why?"
"No," Lillian answers. "Not that she is mine. That I am hers."
Love as the unstoppable force – because it is greater than us, and we must answer the call.
I was introduced to Amy Bloom through her short stories. What amazes me – besides her language - is her ability to lay out our insecurities and desires so honestly. Her characters are human, flawed – and at the heart of it is Bloom, observing, understanding. Her writing is steeped in its humanity, its empathy. Lillian Leyb, like her author, is unflappable in her acceptance of human needs. Ron Charles had it spot-on when he wrote:
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.
It's the kind of humid, overwrought territory where you'd expect to find pathos and melodrama growing like mold, but none of that can survive the blazing light of her wisdom and humor.
Amy Bloom is that good – her prose heart-felt, so beautiful. Really, you have to read this book.