Alison Pick’s historical fiction Far to Go
follows a Jewish-Czech family living in a small town in the Czech Republic as anti-Semitism and the Nazi regime sweep through the country in 1938. The novel's main characters are the Bauer family, consisting of the patriarch, Pavel, his wife, Annaliese, and their young son, Pepik. Also at the forefront of the novel is their loyal maid, Marta, who finds herself in a difficult situation when the family is threatened by her lover, Ernst. The book is narrated in part by a mysterious researcher in Montreal, who seems to have some connection to the family that is not revealed until much later in the novel.
As the book begins, the Bauer family is living in the Czech Republic during the Second World War. The Bauers own a small clothing factory in a small town, and they are initially introduced as upstanding citizens. The family is culturally Jewish, but secular—the early pages of the novel focus on Pavel, the patriarch, Annaliese, his sometimes-childish wife, and their six-year-old son, Pepik. Marta, their maid, cares for Pepik, taking on the role of caregiver as if she were Pepik's own mother.
As the Nazi regime approaches and begins to infiltrate their nation, the Bauers have dramatically different reactions. Pavel focuses on the past, relying on his philosophical roots and his strong sense of nationalism to stop himself from experiencing fear. Dedicated to the liberal ideology of Tomáš Masaryk, he mostly tries to ignore that any change is going on in the present. His wife, Annaliese, is not so convinced. She manages her fear by filling the pantry with canned goods in case they are trapped inside, and being frivolous, she buys all her clothing from Paris, reveling in materialism. Pepik, only six years old, is mostly ignorant of what is going on around him. He enjoys playing with his toy trains, and often reenacts his favorite scenes from the Disney movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
, with his beloved nanny Marta.
Other members of the extended family are not as concerned about the impending Nazi invasion. The cook, Sophie, is looking forward to the Nazis coming to “root out the Jews.” Sophie has a harelip that has always made her an “other” among proper society—she thinks that if the Jews are eradicated, she might finally have a chance to belong. Ernst, Marta's boyfriend and Pavel’s best friend, runs the family's factory. He is also interested in Nazi ideology, but he is much quieter about it; this makes his betrayal of the family even more shocking when it finally happens.
The family, trapped in their small town, moves to Prague hoping to avoid the Nazis, but soon find the city inundated as well. Marta accidentally causes the downfall of the family—though deeply loyal to them, her innocence causes her to reveal information she shouldn't have to Ernst, who has an agenda of his own.
A researcher living in modern-day Montreal, who is studying Kindertransport, the trains that transported young Jewish children out of occupied countries to save their lives, narrates the book, in part. It is ultimately revealed that young Pepik survived the Holocaust, thanks to Kindertransport and an unlikely series of events. The researcher is Pepik’s descendant.
Though inspired by real events during World War II, Pick's novel is more interested in family life during this time, outside of the major European powers. The novel is about loyalty, betrayal, and the legacy that historical events leave behind.
Alison Pick is a Canadian writer from Ontario. She has written two novels, a memoir, and two collections of poetry. She has won a number of awards, including a Canadian Jewish Book Award for Non-Fiction and Memoir, a National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry, and a Governor General's Award for Translation, among many others. She has appeared a number of times on CBC radio to discuss her work and has attended many film and book festivals. Her most recent novel is Strangers with the Same Dream