Tuesday, August 23, 2011

book review: Far to Go by Alison Pick

Far to Go: A Novel (P.S.)The backstory: Far to Go is on the 2011 Booker Prize longlist. 

The basics: Set in Czechoslovakia during World War II, Far to Go follows the Bauer family: Pavel, his wife Anneliese, their son, and governess Marta through the Nazi invasion. In alternating sections, the reader gets glimpses into the research of a historian fascinated by the Kindertransport.

My thoughts: The plot of Far to Go is somewhat familiar ground. The Czechoslovakia setting was new to me, and I enjoyed seeing the war from this vantage point. My favorite part of this novel was the exploration of the theme of Jewishness, and the notion of distinguishing between identity and behavior. I found myself enjoying the contemplative scenes more. I was most drawn to Marta and her observations of the family and town.

Two of the plot devices distracted me from thoroughly engaging with the story, however. I found the modern scenes disjointed and distracting. It was clear the historian was relevant to the main story, but the lack of clues made the narrative muddier rather than enhancing it. Similarly, I was bothered by Marta's illusions to past secrets. If she referred to them less frequently, I think the planted nuggets of information would have been more effective. As it is, I found the clues somewhat distracting.

I liked Far to Go most when the action was happening in the historical sections. I found myself clearly picturing the scenes in Czechoslovakia, and I became quite caught up in the suspense. Overall, the reading experience was somewhat inconsistent. I loved parts of the book, but I also some parts a bit slow. Pick is a strong writer, and I found her best writing to be during Marta's observations, which perhaps explains why Marta was the character I found most enjoyable.

Favorite passage: "People's lives, their infinitely tangled histories, are almost impenetrable--to themselves, let alone to an outsider. My students, of course, would cringe to hear me say this, so full of optimism are they about the historical method. Some still believe in the idea of truth; some, even, that they will find it."

The verdict: Far to Go will enthrall historical fiction fans with its rich setting and characters. Although I'm normally a fan of novels that alternate past and present, I found the modern scenes distracting and somewhat awkward here. The historical elements were good, but this disconnect kept me from truly embracing the narrative.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: April 19, 2011
Source: my local public library

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  1. This is the first I've heard of this one, and although I'd love to read it, I was just thinking that this will probably be one of the wish listed books (along with so many others) that I'll just never get too...makes me sad.

  2. I have this one to be reviewed myself, and I'm glad you at least mostly liked it. The modern narrative worries me, though - those always have to be very well done for me to actually enjoy them. It sounds like this one isn't.

  3. Though the Czechoslovakia setting does give this an original spin, I'm rather mistrustful about books with historical fiction stories alongside "modern" ones. I've found that I rarely like the modern story while I almost always connect with the historical fiction aspect. Far to Go, meanwhile, doesn't sound original enough in other regards to warrant a read... it sounds exactly like many other books with similar themes I've read in the past and based on your reviews, these books were probably better done...

  4. I also sometimes have problems with dual narratives, because I always enjoy one section more than the other. Usually it's the historical side. It sounds like this was a really interesting read, but a little unbalanced. I probably won't read this one because I am just sort of burnt out on all the WWII books right now

  5. Sounds interesting, although I've seen another cool review that didn't like the dual story lines either. I might pass on this, although I'll give it a peek at the library to see if I'm grabbed.

  6. I really enjoyed this book and loved Pick's writing. I, too, found the modern, current scenes strange in that they didn't really fit in and broke the flow of the book for me. I think I would have preferred if there wasn't quite so many of them, maybe just at the beginning and end of the book.

  7. I do like to read pretty much anything set during WWII, so I will probably want to give this one a go :)

  8. I was disappointed with the modern story too. I'd much rather have had the period narrative carry on a little longer, maybe with just an afterword.

  9. I agree the modern narrative wasn't as gripping, but it didn't bother me too much. Overall, I loved the book. I've linked to your review on War Through the Generations.

  10. I loved this one, though I agree the modern setting was somewhat distracting. Still I'm glad that you liked it, if not loved it.


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