Nay, in North America.
NAY! In the world.
Okay, semi-serious. But I'm trying to make a point.
I read a lot. Approximately 100 books a year. And I don't tend to bother reviewing them because A) I'm not a reviewer anymore, and B) Most of them suck.
Alison Pick's books do not suck.
Back in 2005, when I was still working for the wonderful Dose, I did a brief email interview with Pick about her first novel: The Sweet Edge. I remember thinking at the time how shockingly well-written it was, how smart, how intertextual, how emotionally compelling, how beautiful, sad and true. Of course, the piece I wrote for the paper didn't really convey any of that. It was seriously dumbed down. (Part of my job description at the time. Ugh.)
Since The Sweet Edge, I've been eagerly awaiting Pick's next work of fiction. I have all her poetry, which is great, but I was hankering for a novel. And finally, it arrived.
It arrived in the form of Far to Go, a heartbreaking bit of historic fiction that tells the story of one Jewish Czech family's experience during (and after) the Munich Agreement and Germany's annexing of Czechoslovakia.
It's hard to find the right way to describe the book. At first (once I twigged on to the subject matter), I was wary. I didn't want to read one more overwrought, capitalizing, not-very-effective book about the Holocaust. (Why do so many mediocre writers think that subject matter can save them?) I shouldn't have worried. Pick's book isn't anything like those weak, contrived attempts. It's completely authentic. And as a result, completely unsetting.
It's not really fair of me to complain. I was warned. Says the story's post-modern narrator: "I wish this were a happy story. A story to make you doubt, and despair, and then have your hopes redeemed so you could believe again." The quote is right on the jacket.
Far to Go is not a happy story. That said, I couldn't put it down. I actually tried a few times. As I read through it, section by section, I tried to take breaks. I tried to rest my tense muscles and my acidic, anxious gut. But I couldn't stop. I had to know what happened. I had to know what was going to happen.
And ultimately, I think that's what this book does perfectly. Without getting into life at the camps, and leaving out a lot of really horrifying details, it nonetheless both describes and inspires that feeling of needing to know, needing to understand.
In the end, I don't want to say I liked Far to Go better than The Sweet Edge. It's just too raw. But it may well be a better book.
Would I recommend it to just anyone? No. Nathan, for example, with his family history and personal closeness to the Holocaust, might find it be a bit too much. (Though he plans to give it a try.) My parents, also, are resistant to this kind of text and would likely find it too focussed on the imagined individual and lacking in political history.
But if someone were to come to me and say, "I need a really good book. A really affecting, really well-written, really engaging book," and I knew they could handle it, I'd say,
"I have just the thing."