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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far to Go
This is the heartbreaking story of a Jewish family in 1938 Czechoslavakia. There is Pavel Bauer, his wife Anneliese and their young son, Pepik. Also, there is Marta, Pepik's governess, who has no home or family to speak of, outside of the Bauer's. The story is also told by the narrator, as someone looking for Pepik as an old man; although it is not until the end of the...
Published on 10 Sep 2011 by S Riaz

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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strangely disappointing
I thought long and hard before writing this review. Other reviewers have all given it four or five stars (so far), and I wondered what I had missed, but in the end, I have to write what I feel. Four and five star novels are, for me, the ones I can't put down, and long to recommend to others, and this one doesn't quite make the grade. However, if I could have given the...
Published on 9 Aug 2011 by F. M. M. Stott


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far to Go, 10 Sep 2011
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Far to Go (Hardcover)
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This is the heartbreaking story of a Jewish family in 1938 Czechoslavakia. There is Pavel Bauer, his wife Anneliese and their young son, Pepik. Also, there is Marta, Pepik's governess, who has no home or family to speak of, outside of the Bauer's. The story is also told by the narrator, as someone looking for Pepik as an old man; although it is not until the end of the novel that we discover how the narrator and Pepik are connected.

As the war approaches, the Bauer's life begins to change. Pavel can no longer run his factory and Pepik is forced to face the back wall of his classroom, segregated and bullied. The anti semitism is corrosive and seeps into all aspects of the life in the small town the Bauer's live in. Anneliese wants to leave, although Pavel is keen that they stay. You can feel Pavel's disbelief about what is happening, his unwillingness to accept the way his life is changing, his sudden awareness of his Jewishness. His factory, his feeling of confidence in himself, is slowly stripped away, which is hard to read about. Eventually, the decision is made for Pepik to leave on the Kindertransport, with the hope that he will be safe until they can hopefully be reunited.

This was a very moving book. The author takes pains to show what people are capable of in such situations, which bring out the worst and the best of humanity. Ernst, who works with Pavel, and who sees an opportunity for himself. Marta, who both loves the Bauer's and yet feels jealous and abandoned. Pepik, the small and innocent child, so loved and adored. It must have been the hardest decision to send your child alone into a new world, when the unselfish urge to protect your child is stronger than the desperate need to be with them. This was an excellent novel and really thought provoking. It would be a great read for a book group, with lots to discuss and talk about and I am glad that I read it.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A heartbreaking but powerful story., 1 May 2011
By 
Paula Mc (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Far to Go (Hardcover)
'Far to Go' is the story of the Bauer family, Pavel, Anneliese and their six year old son Pepik, along with Pepik's governess, Marta, they live a quiet life in Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. Their lives are changed forever with the arrival of Adolf Hitler and his government in 1939, the Bauer family, who are Jewish but chose not to practice their religion believe they will be safe because of this. Pavel is outraged by the fall of the Sudetenland and the fall of the government but he still believes his family will be safe but as the situation becomes more frightening and Pavel's own views changing, he realises he must flee with this family while he still can but its too late for Pavel and Anneliese but not too late for their beloved Pepik, his parents and governess must be prepared to let him go on the Kindertransport, to go to Great Britain where he will be safe until he can return home.

I was very lucky to be able to read 'Far to Go' before its release on the 12th May 2011 and I recommend it highly.

The story is told from the point of view of Marta, Pepik's beloved governess, who stands by the Bauer family for different reasons but ultimately she stays because she loves the family. Marta's point of view is full of emotion, there is sadness, happiness, strength and love, emotions that are shown so well that you are immersed in the story from the first page. Marta is a well written and realistic character, she is a young girl, who at times is confused and makes wrong decisions.

Pavel and Anneliese are also well written characters, their fear as people and parents are heartbreaking to read, their frustrations and sadness, what they are facing, what they sacrifice to ensure their son's safety. Pepik is a lovely character, you can visualise a sweet, gentle little boy who does not understand the harshness of the world but quickly learns, which was sad to read because you want him to be happy.

The story interweaves between the past and the future, the aftermath of the Kindertransport and what it meant for so many children, some who were lucky enough to see their parents again and the children who did not see them again.

I enjoyed 'Far to Go', it was a powerful story and you can see the love and commitment that went into telling the story by Alison Pick, a story which is part of her own family history.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving and thrilling, 25 Aug 2011
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Far to Go (Hardcover)
A wealthy Jewish family in late 1930s Czechoslovakia is always going to be an emotional story, but this Booker-nominated story avoids crushing sentimentality by offering a complex and thrilling story of the family's efforts to secure safety, particularly for their six year old son. Alison Pick makes some interesting creative choices that add more layers to this story. Some will surprise the reader but the overall impact is a wonderfully moving story with wholly believable characters.

The first of these creative choices can be a little alienating to begin with. The reader is faced with a series of short chapters that don't immediately gel together. In fact the reader has to wait a long time to work out how the whole literary conceit comes together. The one-page prologue is a first person narrative about a train. Is this the "kindertransport" train we are told about on the cover or a child's toy?

Next comes a letter dated 1939 but which has notes that are clearly more recent, as if part of some modern day academic record of the communication. Then we return to the first person narrative, which seems to be set again in the recent past. Who is talking, we are not told, but someone old is dying in a hospital bed. By now, we are some ten pages in before the real bulk of the third person narrative story begins, but Pick has one more layer of confusion to add. We hear about an attack on a Jewish man in Austria before we learn that this is a story being related by Pavel Bauer, a wealthy secular Jew living in the Sudetenland, part of post Great War Czechoslovakia, to Marta the nanny of his young boy on the eve of German occupation. A warning of things to come. But the Bauers are not practising Jews and there is an optimism that this will protect them from the worst of Hitler's anti-Semitism.

The letter and first person narrative interludes continue sparsely throughout the book, but they are always brief and while it takes time to realise their importance, they don't interfere greatly with the pathos of the main story and the final pay off is well worth it. For some, this literary device might be distancing, but in looking at the aftermath of these events, I found it added a further level of emotional depth.

The second creative choice concerns the main story where Pick has chosen to focus events, less from the perspective of the Jewish family and their young son, but more from the point of view of their gentile Nanny, Marta. She's a beautifully written character. She's innocent to the point of naivety and complex. She makes bad decisions and is never wholly good nor bad. If the set up is all sounding a bit "Sound of Music", Marta is certainly no Julie Andrews. She's wholly believable, not least for this complexity of character.

We follow the family as they flee from Sudetenland to the short term safety of Prague. But of course, history relates that the annexation of the Sudetenland didn't deter Hitler's progress for long and there is almost a thriller sense to the story as the family seek ways out to safety and in particular for the safety of young Pepik, their six year old son. Should they put him on one of the kindertransport trains to safety or will the whole family escape? Or will none of them get out? It's impossible not to care for their fate in general and for sweet little Pepik in particular.

The book also interestingly explores the impact of the Nazi threat on the Bauer family's attitude to their Jewish heritage. Husband, Pavel, becomes more inspired by his faith while wife, Anneliese, seeks to further distance herself from all things Jewish.

One slight frustration was that, while the use of Czech terms, particularly relating to food here, adds a degree of authenticity to the story, I was longing to know what it was that they were eating. I have an irrational aversion to footnotes in fiction, but an appended glossary of Czech terms would have been interesting here.

This is an original, and sometimes surprising, take on the plight of Jews in the lead up to the Second World War. The lightness of the writing style brings out the personal stories and the pace reads almost like a thriller. Ultimately Pick keeps a few surprises up her sleeve until the later stages of this moving story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A little book packed with a lot of thought, 25 Oct 2011
By 
M. K. Burton - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Far to Go (Hardcover)
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The Bauers are a prosperous, middle class family living in Czechoslovakia. They are patriotic, they celebrate Christmas, and while they've suffered their fair share of joys and sorrows, they don't consider themselves too different from their neighbors. Unfortunately at this point in history, they are Jews, and even if they haven't practiced their religion seriously for years, that makes their lives impossibly difficult once the Nazis occupy the Sudetenland. Marta, their son Pepik's nanny, has no idea what her background is, but her fate is inextricably tied with the Bauers'. It is little Pepik who has far to go, as the family weighs carefully their plan to put him in the Kindertransport system and send him to Great Britain, where they hope he will be free of the Nazi grasp forever.

This novel is presented in three different intertwining parts. The first is the past, the story of the Bauers told through Marta's voice. The second is in the present, told by an unknown woman seeking a sibling. And the last is a series of letters which are related to the story's characters and slowly reveal to us their fates as we go along. (The book is about Jews in the area we all know Hitler expanded into in World War II - we know what will happen to at least some of the characters). This was an excellent method for me of telling the story. It added a degree of uncertainty to the past segments, which feels frighteningly straightforward as far as these books go, and had me very curious about the outcome. I did find it a little bit disconcerting to switch around so quickly at the beginning of the book, but I got used to the alternate viewpoints quickly.

One of the most fascinating facets of the book for me was its thoughts on memory. How different was our childhood actually from the way we recall it? How much have we modified history within our own heads? This is so interesting because, as I grow older, I'm often wondering if everything happened as I thought it did. And, in the novel, this of course brings up the question of identity - who are we if we've misremembered our past? Without a past, how can we have a future? The book handles this in terms of individuals, but the question works on a much wider scale, especially given the period that this book is about and the essential remembrances we all must take from the Holocaust.

Anyway, I was really surprised by how much I got wrapped up in this book and how much it made me think. Within just a few pages - it's a short book, roughly 300 pages in my version but with huge font and margins - I grew incredibly attached to some of the characters and interested in their well-being, particularly Marta and Pepik.

In those short chapters, the book conveys so very much - about motherhood, about prejudice, about human nature - that I'd find it impossible not to recommend. Combined with a compelling story, Far to Go is a fantastic choice for anyone interested in the Holocaust. You may start out thinking it's just another World War II book, but I recommend you let it prove you wrong.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strangely disappointing, 9 Aug 2011
By 
F. M. M. Stott (Devizes, Wiltshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Far to Go (Hardcover)
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I thought long and hard before writing this review. Other reviewers have all given it four or five stars (so far), and I wondered what I had missed, but in the end, I have to write what I feel. Four and five star novels are, for me, the ones I can't put down, and long to recommend to others, and this one doesn't quite make the grade. However, if I could have given the novel three and a half stars, I would have.

The novel tells the story of the Bauer family - Pavel, Anneliese and their small son Pepik, and Marta, his nanny. The Bauers are Czechs, and the Germans are invading their country. They are also Jews, and the persecution of Jews is getting under way. Because they are not practising Jews, Pavel feels that they are safe; his wife is not so sure. Marta, who is non-Jewish, is torn between the family she loves and, at the beginning of the novel, her Nazi lover, Ernst. As the net gradually closes around them, the painful decision is made to send Pepik to England and safety.

The narrative, told largely from the pont of view of Marta, is punctuated by a present-day first person narrative, and it is not for some time that the identity of this narrator is made clear. One of the problems I had with the novel was this narrative; I felt that it was unnecessary - it provided a framework for the story, but was not essential to it - and it interrupted the main narrative. I also found it irritating not knowing who was speaking.

As to the main story itself, it is well researched and told, but I somehow never really felt drawn in; never feared for the protagonsists or felt their pain as I have in other novels about the Second World War, and I was disappointed. It was all there; the fear, the uncertainty, the pain when Pepik is finally taken from his family onto the Kindertransport, but I wasn't gripped as I had expected to be. We know from early on in the novel that Pepik's parents die in the concentration camps, so any tension as to their fate is pre-empted.

An interesting novel, and a well-written one, but I'm not sure that I would recommend it (although there are plenty who would).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far to go, 2 Sep 2011
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This review is from: Far to Go (Hardcover)
Far to Go

Alison Pick's novel weaves in the complex relationships that evolve between the local population in Sudetenland as it becomes part of Hitler's Reich. The main storyline is the fate of a Jewish family, their Czech help and the German foreman of their textile factory.

Despite the father's reluctance, they finally relocate to Prague but find themselves trapped there following the Nazi occupation. Their son is saved by a hard-won place on a Winton train but his salvation does not have a magical ending. The final twist at the end evokes the emotional journey that remained with these children into their adult lives.

There are frequent references to historical events and Czech, German and Hebrew words are used in italics. It's a pity that some are grammatically incorrect and the name of a historic figure is mis-spelt.

The author's Jewish grandparents escaped from Czechoslovakia and settled in Canada choosing to raise their family as Christians. Her father discovered his roots on a tour of the cemetery in Prague when the guide mentioned that his family name Jewish.

"Far to go" was one of 13 titles selected for the 2011 Man Booker prize for fiction longlist, won this year's Canadian Jewish book award and has been optioned by a Canadian film company to be adapted for the screen next year.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spare but Strong, 4 Aug 2011
By 
Lovely Treez (Belfast, N Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Far to Go (Hardcover)
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One of the longlisted novels for the Booker Prize 2011, Far to Go is certainly attracting a lot of attention from readers and all with good reason - it's a refreshing look at a period of history which should never grow stale in our minds no matter how many years go by.

The main focus of the novel is on the Bauers, a young, secular Jewish family living in Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia which has been invaded by Germany. Pavel, a wealthy factory owner, Anneliese, his stunning, self obsessed wife and their six year old son, Pepik flee to Prague hoping to leave the ominous shadow of the Nazis behind them. Marta, their dutiful Gentile governess, accompanies them, not so much out of duty but because they're all she's got - she doesn't hold Jews in the highest regard but, like a lot of ordinary Europeans caught up in the war, she probably wouldn't be able to tell you why. Eventually, all hopes are lost apart from those pinned on little Pepik who is sent on the Kinderstransport to the UK, hoping to be reunited with his family and Marta after the war.

Despite having studied WWII as part of my History O Level course (many, many moons ago..) my knowledge has remained rather sketchy until recently when I have had the good fortune to read some excellent fiction set during this period. Reading about the Bauers and their efforts (including bribery) to get Pepik out of Czechoslovakia will enlighten readers about the Kinderstransport and the heartache of separation albeit for a greater good, or what they thought was a brighter future...

As well as educating the reader, this novel also achieves a more balanced view of events as the narrator who divulges the Bauers' fate and who also holds their fate in her hands, is a Gentile with no political aspirations. Marta, the governess, is more concerned with looking after Pepik and protecting him from the growing anti-semitic feeling which is gripping Sudetenland. She has little in common with her conniving adulterous lover, Ernst, who hopes to gain financially from Pavel's downfall. Still, she's no saint either and self-preservation is at the forefront of everyone's mind be they Jew or Gentile, Czech or German.

What I love about Far to Go is its simplicity and unpretentiousness - the characters are flawed, real flesh and blood creations who find themselves in the most surreal of situations and whilst they aren't always the most likeable they are all the more credible as a result. Yes, it's a story which will affect you emotionally but it doesn't dwell on sentimentality and presents the truth in simple prose, in black and white. The one minor difficulty I did have was getting into the rhythm of the story as several narrative strands are introduced very quickly, almost on top of each other - the story of the Bauers set in 1939, a contemporary storyline whose narrator remains a mystery until later and also letters written by Jewish parents to the children they sent to the UK. However, this is just a minor quibble for me and it quickly becomes a compelling, coherent read.

Alison Pick has carved a fresh, fictional work out of the past experiences of her Czech grandparents who fled to Canada following Hitler's invasion of their native country. It's a fitting tribute to all those who did not survive and those children who were never reunited with their parents.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but compromised, 15 July 2012
By 
S. Pawley - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Far to Go (Hardcover)
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The story of the German occupation of Czechoslovakia told through the prism of one Jewish family might seem like relatively familiar novelistic territory. That, however, does not make it safe ground. The hope clearly must be that a well-focused story of particular individuals humanizes the abstract tragedy of Nazism and illuminates the experience of the victims and of the bystanders; but this perspective risks trivializing the wider events. On the whole, Alison Pick handles this problem with care, but occasionally one cannot help but wince, as when she writes of a domestic situation that there was a danger that `everything would come crashing down like so much glass on Kristallnacht' (p. 171).

Nor does this novel entirely conform to the familiar model: although most of it consists of a single, linear narrative, the end of the book raises doubts about its authenticity and offers reminders of the fallibility of memory. There is no major twist in the style of Ian McEwan's Atonement; just pointers about the degree to which any story is a construct. These themes too have become rather familiar, though, and it did not seem to me that these final passages had any clear or firm intention - rather, they seemed to betray the author's own anxiety about the mixture of fact and fiction in the novel. This is understandable since the story draws on her own family's experience but (one must assume) takes considerable artistic license with it. What the reader is supposed to make of it all is less clear, aside from the rather familiar ideas already mentioned.

On the whole this book seems a little compromised. The plot carries few surprises, the descriptive language too frequently verges on the banal or is even misjudged, and on too many occasions, characters do or say terribly incongruous things in order that the appropriate mood can be conveyed to the reader. The story is inherently interesting, and the characters are sufficiently well drawn to keep the narrative compelling, but these weaknesses place real limitations on the power of the novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Changing the course of life, 17 Sep 2011
By 
Jo D'Arcy (Portsmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Far to Go (Hardcover)
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Your religion is wrong now; even though you do not practice you are guilty by some remote association. The only answer to this witch hunt is to change and then hope you are passed by. But for Pavel, Annelise Bauer and their son Pepik this is not possible.

It is 1939 and we are taken to Czechoslovakia where the Nazi threat is no longer becoming a threat it is becoming reality. The Bauers would be okay but they are Jews, non practising ones but still Jews. They have a lovely existence and nothing is a problem for them before the Nazi Threat, their son is looked after well by his governess/nanny, Marta who tells us the story of the Bauers and how they looked for ways of avoiding the inevitable. Now the Bauers are in danger, they try anything to stop the march to unknown. Changing religion and hoping that friends and family will be able to help them escape. As the story progress we see the lengths they go to and reach to be able to escape.

The final choice is for them to save their son, through the Kindertransport and send him to safety. What a choice for any parent to make, sending their child away to another unknown country and family knowing that they will ultimately face death.

This is a book of many emotions, and I admit to struggling with it. It was inevitable what was going to happen to the adults and I think this inevitably was also known to them as well and they slowly throughout the book resigned themselves to this fact. The emotion is raw when Pepik is sent away on the train with hundreds of other children. This emotion is jarred somewhat by another storyline throughout not narrated by Marta but from someone unknown, this really did not make sense until at least two thirds of the way through the book, who this narration was from and I am not sure if it had its purpose being in this book. I had worked out the relationship developing between some of the other characters and how this was going to come out but the additional narration somewhat spoilt that for me.

This is a fascinating novel and from a historical point of view introduced me to something I knew very little about but not necessarily had connected it with other events of World War Two. It has been researched thoroughly well and on many occasions I did wonder if I was reading something autobiographical not a fictionalised account at all as it was that strong in its storytelling. However I was not completely addicted to the book and I cannot begin to tell you why, I struggled but stuck with it and I know by doing that I have not missed out on something I think probably lots of people should read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Subject Matter, 20 Aug 2011
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Lincs Reader (Lincolnshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Far to Go (Hardcover)
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I actually feel a little guilty saying this, given the seriousness of the subject matter, but I was very underwhelmed by this novel. Being lucky enough to live very close to the Holocaust Centre in Laxton, Nottinghamshire, I did have quite a lot of prior knowledge of the Kindertransport programme. Maybe it is because I've heard actual survivors speak and toured the centre that made this novel seem a little flat to me. I'm not sure.

There is some excellent detail in the story, yet it did not flow well for me and I was especially irritated by the many sudden appearances of the extra, modern-day narrator. Her voice didn't add anything to the story and confused me, and even at the end, I didn't really see the point of her.

Lots of my favourite reviewers have really enjoyed this novel, I know I should have enjoyed it, there is no doubt that the author is talented, but it wasn't a hit for me.
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Far to Go
Far to Go by Alison Pick (Paperback - 2 Feb 2012)
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