Alison Pick, author of Far To Go, was our wonderful guest poster here on Catherine, Caffeinated earlier today. She is also the reason why I woke up this morning looking like a hay-fever sufferer who had spent the night nose-down in freshly cut grass; I was up until two o’clock this morning, finishing Far To Go and crying my eyes out. This book just broke my heart open.
“Czechoslovakia, 1939. Pavel and Anneliese Bauer, much like any other affluent Czech family, dote on their six-year-old son, Pepik, and enjoy a life of domestic comfort. Their nanny, Marta, could not adore Pepik more. But as rumors of the Nazi threat, and then German troops, reach their corner of the Sudetenland, this charmed existence is turned on its head: for all that the Bauer barely consider themselves Jewish, their lives are now in danger. Far to Go plunges us into the hearts of a family fleeing for their lives, and offered a desperate chance to save their child. Few novels have dealt with the story of the Kindertransport, and none with insight into it complex legacy of hope, secrecy and loss. A story about love, the painful choices it demands of us, and the way it endures, Far to Go is at once haunting and impossible to put down.”
This really is an astounding book and I found myself deeply affected by it. Jumping between 1939 and an initially unidentified, mysterious narrator in modern day, it tells the story of one family’s struggle to make the right decision in a time when the consequences of any action were utterly unknown, and there was only a deep sense of foreboding to rely upon. It is also, I think, about memory, and the delicate jig-saw pieces that we use to make it up. After a slow burn, its climax sneaks up on you, a sudden blow from the side, and it is utterly devastating – but not at all for the reasons you might think.
I think when we look at what happened during the Holocaust, the sheer numbers, the horrific facts, prevent us from taking it all in. It’s too big a heartache. It’s only when we experience it through the eyes of a single family do we really understand the pain, the injustice, the senselessness and the horror. Far To Go doesn’t take us to the camps and only hints at what we know is coming (the Bauers, of course, have no way of knowing, and the rumors seem too outlandish to them to be true), and it doesn’t need to. The victims it describes, the children who left their families, their foundations and their childhoods behind to board Kindertransport trains and start new lives in foreign countries with strangers who spoke a language they couldn’t understand – they are the “lucky” ones. Surely that is the most horrific fact of all.
A masterful storyteller, language used simply but beautifully, a sensitive but illuminating touch on history, characters who are still with me now, emotional impact (to say the least!) and a shocking twist: Far to Go has it all. I’m still thinking about this book, and will be for a long time.
Devastating, and devastatingly brilliant. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Thanks to Headline for my copy. Click here to purchase Far To Go from Amazon.co.uk.