There's a saying that pops up early in Amy Bloom's fifth novel, Away (Random House): Az me muz, ken men (when one must, one can). You could say that this is the mantra of Lillian Leyb, the protagonist. Set in the 1920s, the story finds Lillian fleeing to Ellis Island after losing her family to Russian pogroms. There, she finds work in Manhattan as a seamstress for a Yiddish theater company, and takes up affairs with both the father and son who own and act in the company. The tale morphs into a road trip when Lillian hears word that her child may have survived the massacre. Desperate to find her young daughter, who is believed to be living in Siberia, she makes her way through the colorfully downtrodden world of America, from Chicago to Seattle's underground jazz scene to the frozen frontiers of Alaska. In synopsis form, one must wonder if the sparsely named Away is prone to melodrama, but author and psychotherapist Bloom keeps her prose refreshingly original, complex, and compelling.
Tue., Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m., 2008