I don’t usually like to compare books so directly as they feature so many differences they can never truly stand side by side. In this instance, however, I can’t help but compare Far To Go with Half Blood Blues. The main reason for this is their featuring on the Booker Longlist and the fact that both of them deal with Nazism during World War Two. While Half Blood Blues dealt with the oppression of black people in the era, Far To Go deals with the struggle of the Jewish people under Hitler’s regime.
Far To Go follows the governess, Marta, of a wealthy Jewish family in 1939, in Czechoslovakia. We watch as their lives slowly crumble from rich and popular to shunned by their friends and their assets swept up by the Nazis. Using the Governess, or nanny, of the Bauers’ child to tell the story is brilliant. She is effectively impartial to the goings on and offers a plain and brutal account of the betrayals that surround her.
The plot of the novel winds through many difficult times for Pavel and Anneliese Bauer and their son, Pepik. The family, desperate to avoid the Nazis flee to Prague and even attempt to run for the Border to France at one point and of course we are standing at the sidelines helpless as we watch characters we’re growing to love fight the atrocities of our past.
And we do grow to love the family, despite their flaws. Marta is a confused character who at first doesn’t know where her own alliances lay. Pavel is a gullible man who believes passionately that the situation with the Nazis will just blow over and Anneliese begins waving everything off and hiding behind her wealth. Therein lays the wonder of the book, in that fragile characters are often the most endearing. By the end of the book my natural anger at the past grew vastly as I read about these people suffer.
Then of course there is Pepik, the central point of the novel. Everything that the adults around him are working towards is for him and his safety. It is in his story that we read about this small boy who is helpless to his family’s fate and ultimately is placed on a train to Scotland and never sees his parents again.
It’s an uncomfortable and emotionally stirring read. Alison Pick deals with the travesties of the past with care and thought, but never shies away from the core issues that the Jews faced. I’m not afraid to admit the anger that I felt while reading, nor that I had to move to another room towards the end for fear of the tears falling. It’s a story that is wonderfully written and that will leave you thinking about the characters for days after.
My only major gripe is the ending, which feels out of place. It doesn’t sit well next to such a great story. Using a different tact to tell the story’s finale I felt robbed of the experience built up by the rest of the novel. Despite that, it’s certainly an interesting twist.
Then we arrive at the comparison. I really enjoyed reading Half Blood Blues but after reading Far To Go I felt that this novel dealt with its issues with more skill and care. The characters are stronger, they have more heart, spark more passion from the reader. I’m quite gutted that Alison Pick’s novel didn’t make the Booker shortlist. I’m a sucker for novels based during the World Wars, but, I would love this book even if I wasn’t.
Available now from Headline. Paperback – 314 pages, Fiction, Kindly sent by the publisher.