Far to Go by Alison Pick
Published: 2010 by House of Anansi Press/Harper Collins Canada
This novel begins with a prophetic sentence: “I wish this were a happy story.” Given that much of the narrative is set in Czechoslovakia at the time of Nazi occupation just before the beginning of World War II, one can immediately assume what type of unhappy story this will be; but it is more than that.
The novel interweaves the narrative mentioned above – the story of Pavel and Anneliese Bauer, a prosperous Jewish couple who waver on sending their young son, Pepik, on a Kindertransport, and Pepik’s nanny, Marta – with that of an unnamed narrator. This narrator is a professor of Holocaust studies at a university in Canada and her area of interest is the children who were evacuated from Eastern Europe to England in the Kindertransports; she is obviously a lonely person and through her story we start to see the connection between this and her area of specialty. She has a particular interest in the Bauer family, and she has kept a detailed file of their archived correspondence.
Marta is the focus of the historical narrative, and she is an interesting character. Working for the Bauers after fleeing an apparently abusive home life, she finds comfort with them, and even though she questions the logic of her loyalty once persecution of the Jews begins, she realizes that the Bauers are the closest thing to a family she has known. Pepik adores her – as she does him – and Pavel and Anneliese treat her as more than just a servant.
As the first sentence indicates, this novel is not a happy story. That said, Alison Pick writes it so well that it is a pleasure to read – not only for the language she uses, and the interweaving narratives with copies of some letters from the archive; but for the mystery she creates, so even though you have an idea of the outcome, there are lingering questions throughout the novel that keep you reading.