Alison Pick unravels the past in Far to Go


A sneak peek at The Next Chapter (11/29/10)

"I wish this was a happy story."

This is how Alison Pick begins her latest novel, Far to Go. She's right. It's not a happy story.

Set in the former Czechoslovakia during the build-up to the Second World War, Far to Go is the story of the Bauers, an affluent, and largely secular, Jewish family. As Nazi German forces close in on Czech territory, the Bauers' world starts to crumble. Parents Pavel and Anneliese are forced to make a heart-wrenching decision — should they send their only child away on the Kindertransport (a rescue train that brought children from Eastern Europe to relatives in safety in England)?

The conflicted parents struggle to decide what is best for their six-year-old son, Pepik, in this powerful, deftly rendered tale. It is compelling throughout, but the true magic of the novel lies in Pick's depiction of the events leading up to the Bauers' fateful decision.

Pick portrays the build-up to the Nazi invasion and occupation through a series of seemingly small events and gradually encroaching restrictions rather than one big, brutal bang. Anneliese and Pavel react very differently to the worsening situation: Whereas Anneliese becomes increasingly panicked, Pavel reconsiders his Jewish identity as he begins to find in it a growing sense of comfort and importance.

Pick is quick to say that the story isn't autobiographical, even if it does bear some resemblance to her own family's history. Pick's paternal grandparents shared some characteristics with the fictional Bauer family. This history, however, was shrouded in secrecy. Pick's father was raised not knowing of his Jewish heritage, and she herself discovered it only as a teenager.

"My grandmother came to Canada as a young woman. She didn't speak the language. She had a new baby. She learned that her parents had died in the camps, and she decided she didn't want to have anything to do with it," Pick told host Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter.

In the past decade, however, the family has gone through a period of exploring their background. Pick herself converted to Judaism while she was researching the book.

"While she was alive, I think it felt really important to my dad to respect her wishes," Pick continued. "She had been through this horrific thing, and we were going to deal with it in the way that she wanted to."

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