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Book Review: Far to Go by Alison Pick

Title: Far to Go
Author: Alison Pick
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
ISBN: 978-0-88784-238-2
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Author/Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Far to Go by Alison Pick is one of the best reads for me this year. It made me realize a lot more in-depth about the Holocaust and its aftermath, that may be I wasn’t aware of earlier (This was before reading “The End” by Ian Kershaw). The entire idea of what one man was capable of shook me to my very being. We all know about the World War II and what happened to the Jews. We all know the mercenary behaviour of one man in the face of supremacy and the idea of creation of a, “supreme race”. Based on this, Far to Go has been written and I can only say one thing: I am glad that this book was written.

Far to Go follows two parallel stories (one set in the year leading to the start of World War II and the other is set in the present). The narrative takes place through the months from 1938 to 1939, when Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia is handed over to Nazi Germany. This brings out turmoil in the city’s residents and one particular secular Jewish family of the Bauers.

The Bauers – Pavel and Anneliese are living in peace and harmony till the invasion takes place. At the beginning they believe they will be safe as they aren’t practicing Jews. However, as events begin to unfold in front of their eyes, they decide to leave the country and protect themselves and their son Pepik.

The book is told through the eyes of Pepik’s Nanny Marta, and the reader is able to see the devastating effect the painful decisions have on the Bauer family. The parents are unable to leave the country, so they send their son to Britain on the Kindertransport, to keep him safe. Kindertransport in those times was a program through which 10,000 children were sent to Non-occupied Nazi areas without their parents. Marta on the other hand is Non-Jewish and is confused with all the anti-Jewish sentiments and comments prevalent in the air. She meets Ernst, Pavel’s colleague secretly every night and gets influenced by Ernst’s comments and opinions, though she is fully aware of how the Jewish are just regular people. And yet she betrays the family she works for.

I could understand Marta’s point of view to some extent. In the sense that she was lured and only wanted to impress Ernst and how she felt for him dictated most of her actions and drove her to be the person she wasn’t. While reading that, the questions that came to mind were: Is it so easy to betray the people you once liked and loved? How strong or weak are people in the face of circumstances? Who decides people’s fates then – other people or one man?
Far to Go questions identity and race as well – What does it mean to wake up one fine day and discover that life isn’t the same anymore just because you belong to a certain race of people? How would we feel if that were to happen to us in today’s time and age?

Alison Pick writes the book with great urgency and beauty. There were portions that overwhelmed me to such an extent that it was difficult for me to read further. Certain passages that spoke of the treatment vetted to Jews literally break the readers’ heart. The intensity of the writing comes from the fact that Alison’s grandparents were also survivors of World War II and fled from Czechoslovakia to Canada. I was deeply moved by the writing and my heart went out to characters more than once and I guess that is the beauty of powerful writing.

Far to Go was nominated for the Booker Long List 2011, however did not make it to the short list. I am amazed at that. Nonetheless, Far to Go is a book that I will not forget in a long time to come. Far to Go is a moving, human tale of perseverance and sometimes of the difficult choices we make as humans.

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Far to Go: A Novel (P.S.)

Book Review: Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson

Title: Comedy in a Minor Key
Author: Hans Keilson
ISBN: 9781843914563
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Publisher: Hesperus Press
PP: 112 pages
Price:  £9.99
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I believe in the cliché “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Too often over the years, a book has made me feel like the author was being paid by the word. I appreciate books whose author doesn’t waste words; Comedy in a Minor Key is a perfect example to me of how succinctness doesn’t have to compromise the story, and in fact, how succinctness can work in the favor of a story’s overall construct.

The book tells the story of a Dutch couple (Wim and Marie) during WWII who are providing secret housing for a middle-aged Jewish man (Nico), but who then must find a way to dispose of his body when he dies of pneumonia in their care. Even though the book was written in 1947, the book spends no unnecessary time explaining the context of their dilemma and assumes the reader knows what happened in the Netherlands during WWII, and what the inherent dangers of their predicament were.

Barely 135 pages, Comedy in a Minor Key is a subtle, compassionate, richly human story with more complexity and mystery than one would think was possible to sneak into such a slim, matter of fact volume. “Wim slowly regained his usual composure. Even if he was the younger man here, he was still the host, and that brought with it various responsibilities. He felt that the other man had understood precisely the reasons for Wim’s initial discomfort and that he had made an effort to dispel it, even though he found himself in an even less comfortable situation. Wim offered him a cigarette and said, as he lit the match, ‘My wife and I are happy we can do something for you.’” These small true moments reveal the character of people who do the right thing in extreme circumstances, yet maintain the ambiguity and complexity of character and motive that are universal in circumstances great and small, profound and banal.

As a reader I found the story contained poignant passages which serve as displays of the simple kindness and generosity of humans shown towards others facing adversity and torment. There is something very spiritually renewing about this book. I must mention that I failed to see the comedy or wit as the title would lend, being that it would be extremely difficult to find anything humorous about this dark period in world history. Would I read it again? Most definitely.

You can buy the book here on Flipkart