(Audio) Book Review: Away by Amy Bloom

When Lillian Leyb’s whole family is killed in a Russian pogrom – brutally slaughtered by their neighbours simply for being Jewish – she boards a ship to a new country and ends up in New York City, sharing a cramped apartment with a cousin and a rotating cast of other roommates. A job at a local theatre though throws her into the path of the Boorsteins, both father and son, and soon Lillian’s luck seems to have changed. But when she receives word that her daughter, Sophie, is still alive, she sets out on a journey to find her. Travelling across America to Seattle and then North up the Telegraph Trail to Dawson City. Lillian is determined to cross the Bering Sea and reach Siberia to find her little girl.

I had added Away to my TBR list some time back and largely forgotten what it was about when I saw that it was available as an audiobook from my library. One thing I’m learning about audiobooks is that there’s no blurb to refresh my memory or familiarize me with the plot and characters before I get started. So while none of the plotline I’ve shared here would count as a spoiler, I was continuously surprised by what Lillian was doing next.

The story has a very sweeping feel to it. While Lillian is undoubtedly our protagonist and the story is focused tightly on her, Bloom also diverts occasionally to follow other characters after Lillian parts ways with them. In brief asides, Bloom leads us through the rest of their lives right up to their deaths. This lends the story a larger feel, something more like a generational epic. It also adds to making the book feel even more like a book about America and its history. The action of the story is set in the 1920s but the glimpses at their pasts and futures are also a glimpse of America’s. Many of the characters are immigrants, many are minorities, learning to live in a country that wants their labour but not their language or skin colour.

Lillian herself is a likeable enough character and although she makes many choices I certainly wouldn’t, it’s never hard to understand why she is doing what she is doing and it always felt true to the character that I’d come to know. I wanted to root for her and I wanted her journey to be successful.

A note on the audio: I have nothing to comment on the narrator, which I think is ideal because I feel like you want the narrator to fade into the background. I appreciated being able to hear the correct pronunciation for some words and conversation that take place in Yiddish. There were a couple of scenes of violence that I found really hard to listen to and made me realize that when I come across scenes like that on the page, I read faster or even skim over them, something that wasn’t possible when they were being spoken into my ear. There were also a few sex scenes where I kept making sure my headphones were well and truly plugged in as I walked to work!

11 thoughts on “(Audio) Book Review: Away by Amy Bloom”

  1. This sounds like a contender for the Great American Novel Quest, with the way the characters are spread out over time and place. I know exactly what you mean about scenes that you’d skim over on paper – that’s partly why I sometimes find myself abandoning an audiobook but making a note to read it on paper later. There’s something much more visceral, I find, when things are spoken rather than read. As for sex scenes, I just can’t bear them in audiobooks! I always end up feeling sorry for the poor narrator… 😉

    1. Ooh, it definitely could be! It touches on a lot of American history/issues of the time. There was one scene in particular that was very hard to listen to but it was mostly ok after that. Probably if there had been more, I would have had to stop. I’ve mostly been listening while walking so I’m by myself but sometimes when I pass people I wonder what kind of expression I might have on my face!

  2. Such a beautiful cover for what sounds like an extraordinary book.
    Your comment about the scenes you gloss over while reading paper books made me realise that I do the same thing. I’ve not listened to an audiobook yet with a section that made me feel uncomfortable.

    1. I never thought about the difference between reading a description on paper and having it spoken out loud but hearing it in my ear made it feel more real, like someone telling me a story.

  3. Just last week I started listening to audiobooks again. I did not for quite some time because I typically only listen while commuting, and I realized I was getting a headache and struggling to understand the reader. It turns out that when I wear my hearing aids while driving, they really pick up the sound of the road, which makes it challenging to hear the book. I take out my hearing aids and turn up the volume on the speakers a bit, so then I don’t hear the road but I can hear the book.

    1. I’ve been walking a lot and that has been a great opportunity to listen to audio books. And sometimes when I’m home alone doing chores but if I get too absorbed in what I’m doing, I stop paying attention to the book!

    2. Oh yes, I think I would find that too. I tried to copy down a recipe while listening to an audiobook the other day and my brain couldn’t do either!

  4. haha I would feel awkward listening to a sex scene in my earbuds too, I totally understand where you are coming from. I think I tend to read quicker over violent scenes as well, that’s interesting I never thought about the fact that audio books really force you to experience a book in a particular way, it takes away your independence in a way.

    1. I hadn’t considered that aspect of audiobooks either. I will probably choose them a little differently in the future because of that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s