While all the cruelty and atrocities were being perpetrated by the Nazis in the late 1930s, there were a few brave individuals who took it upon themselves to help the victims of Hitler’s genocide. One such unsung hero was Nicholas Winton, a 29 year old British stockbroker, who having visited Prague, decided to do something to save the Jewish children prior to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. He organized trains that would carry Czech children from Prague to London where they would be looked after by British families. Thousands of Czech parents contacted Nicholas Winton to hand over their children to his care and so almost 700 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia were saved by him as most of their parents lost their lives in the death camps of Dachau and Auschwitz. The author’s own grandparents fled Czechoslovakia for Canada during the World War so this is a deeply personal book.
Hitler’s annexation of Sudetenland, the subsequent conquest of Czechoslovakia, and the rescue of children from Czechoslovakia is the background of Pick’s Far to Go. It is a riveting story of the Bauer family and in their predicament and suffering we learn of similar suffering of thousands of Czech citizens at the hands of the Nazis. The plot is fast paced and though we have read other stories set during the holocaust, Alison Pick’s story of the proud but defeated Pavel Bauer, his wife Anneleise, their son Pepik and nanny Marta is emotionally powerful.
Each character reacts to the political happenings of the time in his/her own way. Pavel tries to hang on to a semblance of order for a long time sometimes refusing to read the writing on the wall. He has been a secular Jew all these years, hardly practicing the rituals of Judaism but as the Nazis work to exterminate the Jews, he finds himself more drawn to the heritage of his ancestors. Anneleise on the otherhand distances herself from her faith and drowns her fears for the future in clothes and shoes, Marta the nanny, not Jewish herself, struggles to reconcile the growing anti Semitism around her and her own love for the Bauers, particularly the little boy Pepik.
The plot is very realistic – not all marriages survive chaos and suffering, not all friends help in a crisis, not all British families welcome their charges under the kindertransport program.
Of particular interest is the mystery narrator of the story. The reader is left wondering whose voice is telling the story as slowly, bit by bit the narrator’s identity is revealed. The latter part of the book is excellent in which pages the author gives a heart breaking description of the fear and anxiety experienced by little Pepik as he is separated from his family as part of the kindertransport program. One can easily imagine what this must have been like for child and parents.
Alison Pick’s book was long listed for the prestigious Booker Prize in 2011. It is a simple story but powerful. It leaves you thinking about those who suffered, it leaves the reader wondering why we bring so much suffering to each other, what it is that prevents us from living in peace and allowing others to have the same life we wish for ourselves. And yet it is encouraging that while some like Ernst will use the climate of discrimination to further their own interests, there are others who will risk their lives to help. Tough times separate the men from the boys. I encourage you to read Far to Go. I hesitate to say you will “enjoy” the book because of the subject of the plot but the book is well written, the characters are real, flawed humans and the book exposes you to the history of Nazi occupation and conquest of Czechoslovakia and the kindertransport program that saved the lives of several Jewish children.
Geetha`s love of books began when she was a child. She later turned that love into formal education with a Masters in English Literature and then again into a career for a few years, teaching English at Ethiraj and Fergusson Colleges in India. Though her career took her into the computer industry, Geetha has continued to read both individually as well as part of a book club in Newmarket, Canada where she lives.