There are multiple settings in Bloom’s Away; the protagonist, Lillian, moves from place to place as the story progresses. The scenes in Turov, Russia, are brutal with the murders of Jews and the desperate longings of a mother for a lost child. But Lillian does not stay in Russia for long. She is shipped to a relative in New York City, where she must learn English as well as survival skills for an immigrant in a large city.

In the sections that occur in New York, the author provides descriptions of a city seen through an immigrant’s eyes and through a Jewish girl’s eyes. Not only must Lillian learn a new language, but she must also learn how to make her way in a world that might easily be described, given her circumstances, as a world against her. Lillian learns fast. She uses her dual languages as well as her good looks to her advantage.

Lillian acclimates very quickly and does well for herself. But as soon as she receives word that her daughter might well still be alive, she begs and borrows her way to Seattle. A part of this story takes place with Lillian locked in a janitor’s closet on a Trans-American train.

Once in Seattle, Lillian “walks out the wrong door.” By exiting the train station from this door, she enters Skid Row, a place thick with crime. She wakes up on a wet street with a lump on her head and a prostitute standing over her. It is through this prostitute’s life that Seattle is visited. This is 1920s Seattle, still considered a pioneer town booming with money from logging mills. In Pioneer Square off Yesler Way, not far from the waterfront, bars and prostitution reign. Eventually Lillian regains her strength and some money then gets on a boat and heads for Alaska.

In Alaska, Lillian, exhausted from walking to a small town, falls asleep in a barn. She is awakened by the local sheriff who is tempted to marry her but instead places her in a woman’s detention hall because...

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Ideas for Group Discussions

1. How would you describe Lillian’s character while she lives in New York? Think about the way she got her job and her relationships.

2. How would you evaluate Lillian’s actions toward her cousin Frieda? Her roommate Judith? Her cousin Raisele?

3. Lillian has a false pregnancy. Do you think this might have been because she wanted one of her lovers to marry her?

4. Lillian reacts to men in a very passive aggressive manner. She submits to both of the Bursteins but then takes from them what she needs. How does she display this trait throughout the rest of the story?

5. Would you say that Lillian is guilty of the murder of Snooky Salt? Why or why not?

6. How do Lillian’s relationships with women differ from her relationships with men, besides the obvious sexual connections with men? Does she appear stronger or weaker with women? Is she equally passive with both? Which relationships would you deem more truthful?

7. In what part of this story does Lillian appear to be her strongest? Explain.

Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Research the Jewish–Russian relationship in the 1920s. Did this in any way tie in with Nazi attempts to annihilate Jews in Germany? How many Jewish people were murdered in the 1920s and 1930s? How many escaped and where did they go? Finalize your statistics and report your findings to your class.

2. Map Lillian’s journey from Russia to New York, Seattle, and Alaska. How many miles did she cover? How many by train? How many walking? What might she have seen along the way? Would it have been possible for her to row a boat up the Yukon as she had intended? Create a graphic display to help you demonstrate the actual details of her trip.

3. What were the demographics of immigration to the United States in the 1920s? From what countries were people emigrating? In what numbers? Why were they coming? How would they travel? What were the procedures at Ellis Island when they got there? Present your findings to your class along with photographs or illustrations.

4. What were the economic conditions in the 1920s in the United States right before the market crash at the end of that decade? What was the rate of unemployment? What were the typical earnings of the middle class? What kind of jobs would immigrants find and did they differ depending on the immigrants nationality? Create visual aids to enhance your presentation to your class.

5. Fat Patty is a tattoo artist at the women’s detention hall in Alaska. There is mention of the different kinds of tattoos that the women requested. Research various drawings that might have been used in the 1920s. How do they differ from tattoos of today? What are some typical designs that women might request today compared to those listed in the novel? Either copy the pictures you find or draw examples of them and present them to your class along with your presentation of the historical changes.

Related Titles / Adaptations

Songs without Words (2007) is another story about women and their relationships. Ann Packard writes about love and parental worries as well as concerns about the dissolution of spirituality in this novel. There is no road trip here, as most of the novel takes place in suburbia. But there are challenges that the protagonist must face.

Zadie Smith’s debut novel, White Teeth (2001), follows the stories of other immigrants, this time heading for the United Kingdom. In the process of writing her characters’ experiences as they struggle to make a new life, the author covers topics of politics, poverty, science, and religion in what reviewers hailed as an easy style.

From a different and more contemporary view of immigration, Monica Ali creates a story about a young woman from Bangladesh, a Muslim who must learn to adjust to life in England. The novel is called Brick Lane (2004) and was nominated for the Man Booker Prize.

For a different twist on immigrants in Alaska, read Michael Chabon’s new novel, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union (2007). The book has been praised due to Chabon’s literary skills, although some question all the genres that the author has gathered to tell his story. The premise is that Jews, after World War II, were offered a temporary home in Alaska instead of carving Israel out of the Middle East. The novel is part murder mystery, part Jewish identity study, and part invented history.


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

Amy Bloom’s Away opens with Lillian Leyb standing in line among hundreds of young women, waiting to apply for a seamstress job at the Goldfadn Yiddish Theatre in New York City’s Lower East Side. An immigrant from a small Russian village, Lillian fled to America after her parents and husband were murdered and her toddler daughter Sophie went missing in a pogrom. In New York, Lillian lives with her cousin Frieda, sharing a bed with her cousin Judith. Lillian also works for Frieda’s kitchen-table business, sewing and picking apart fabric flowers. Although Frieda employs Lillian, she makes it clear that while America is full of opportunity, one’s fortunes can suddenly change. Lillian could easily be turned out on the...

(The entire section is 1789 words.)


Johnson, Sarah Anne. 2005. “Amy Bloom.” Writer, Vol. 118, No. 11, p. 66. Johnson records Bloom’s thoughts concerning writing.

Marshall, John. 2007. “Amy Bloom Breathes Life into the Quest Saga with Her Gripping Away.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 21,  p. 38. Marshall praised the author and her novel as a marvel of economy and uncommon richness.

Maslin, Janet. 2007. “Trekking O’er the World, with Her Luck and an Axe.” The New York Times, August 20, p. E1. Maslin provides a lengthy review, praising the author for her striking narrative.

Milzoff, Rebecca. 2007. “An American Fairy Tale with a Twist.” Forward, Vol. 111, No. 31672, pp. B1–2. Milzoff digs into the character of Bloom’s protagonist and demonstrates her delight in having read Bloom’s novel.

Pinsker, Sanford. 2007. “Huck Finn as a Stylish, Jewish Immigrant.” Jewish News, Vol. 61, No. 44, p. 36. Pinsker begins his review with the statement, “Amy Bloom is a first-rate writer who knows how to turn a delicious phrase, create unforgettable characters, and, most of all, plumb the depths of the human heart.”

Schwarzbaum, Lisa. 2007. “Spirited Away.” Entertainment Weekly, August 24, No. 949/950, p. 136. Schwarzbaum credits Bloom’s background in psychology for the depth of her characters.

Stockwell, Anne. 2004. “About Amy Bloom.” Ploughshares, Vol. 30, No. 2/3, pp. 205–209. A good read that offers insights into Bloom as an author.


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

Booklist 103, no. 22 (August 1, 2007): 31.

Kirkus Reviews 75, no. 12 (June 15, 2007): 567-568.

Library Journal 132, no. 9 (May 15, 2007): 77.

Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2007, p. R1.

New Statesman 137 (September 24, 2007): 78.

The New York Times Book Review 156 (September 2, 2007): 11.

Publishers Weekly 254, no. 38 (September 24, 2007): 67.