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Marta could see her reflection in the parlour window.  Her hair was dark and curly; she had a dimple in the middle of her left cheek that seemed to drive her innocence home.  Pavel got up from his chair, and he stood next to her for a moment, looking down at the town square.  There was a woman trying to cram an enormous valise into the boot of a Tatra, and several more detachments of Czech soldiers.  A young girl cried openly as she watched a uniformed back retreat across the square.  Her man going off to fight.  She held a single rose in her hand, the petals pointed toward the ground like a magic wand that had lost its power.  And Marta felt suddenly the same helpless dread.  The fog inside her lifted and the old familiar feeling came back.  Things were about to happen, she knew.  Things she would be powerless to stop.

(from Far to Go, page 13 in the ARC)

As I turned the last page and brushed away a few tears, I realized how deeply affected I was by Alison Pick’s newest novel, Far to Go.  I was hooked from the first page, and I found it hard to pull myself away from it for all those necessary tasks — work, housekeeping, and even sleep.  Far to Go is one of those novels that you read holding your breath; you know the bottom is going to fall out from under you at some point, but you just can’t stop reading.

In Far to Go, Pick tells the story of a Jewish family and their Gentile governess, Marta,  just before the outbreak of World War II from Marta’s point of view.  After the annexation of Austria, Hitler sets his sights on Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland, where Marta lives with Paval and Anneliese Bauer and their son, Pepik.  Marta doesn’t have a family, and despite being a servant, she loves Pepik as if he was her own, and she feels like part of the Bauer family.  Paval tells Marta his concerns about the Nazis taking his country, and Marta carries Anneliese’s darkest secret — and the two women are bound together, given that Anneliese suspects Marta is having an affair with Ernst, the Sudeten German who manages Paval’s factory.

When the Nazis take the Sudetenland and things for the Jews begin to change for the worse, Ernst tells Marta that she has to take sides, and even though she does things she later regrets that change the course of a family’s history, Marta’s loyalty remains with the Bauers — the only real family she has ever known.  Through Marta’s eyes, we see the Bauers relocate to Prague, and after the Nazi occupation of the city, scramble to escape the country.  We feel her desire to be loved and accepted as part of the family, her fears of abandonment, her guilt, and her confusion about the swiftly changing world under Hitler.

Along with the narrative from Marta’s point of view, Pick includes letters from the Bauers and others that reveal pieces of their story and a present-day narrative from the point of view of a narrator whose identity is revealed toward the end and sheds new light on the events that occurred in 1938-39 and the fate of the main characters.  Through this narrator, Pick also tells the story of the Kindertransport, in which families in England, Scotland, and elsewhere took in Jewish children to protect them from the evils being perpetrated in their native countries.

Pick’s writing is tight, beautifully conveying emotion in few words.  I became so involved in the lives of her characters, and as I watched their world fall apart, I felt a deep sadness in my chest.  It’s amazing how writing can hit you so hard, but even though Far to Go is fiction, I kept thinking about all the Jewish families who actually lived through what the Bauers and Marta experienced — people losing their family businesses, being forced to choose whether to keep their children close or send them away, not knowing who to trust.

Far to Go is a powerful novel about a painful part of our world’s history.  It’s about loyalty and family, love and loss, betrayal and guilt.  It’s about how a single action can change everything.  Most importantly, it’s about remembering and makes you wonder how many survivors of the Holocaust — especially children — had to piece together the story of their families and even their own existence before the war from letters and scant memories.  Pick’s novel is one that will stay with me for a long time and definitely will make my “best of” list for 2011.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in the blog tour for Far to Go. To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Far to Go from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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