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, 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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