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 he is afraid if he does not lock her up until the spring Lillian will try to make it farther north in the middle of the winter. When Lillian is released, the rest of her journey is taken on foot. The surrounding boundless nature is magnificent but harsh. By the time she nears Dawson, where she hopes to rent a boat and make her way up the Yukon River and cross over to Siberia, her feet are infected from raw blisters, she is as skinny as a pole, and she has lice in her filthy hair. She has learned to catch wild animals, like porcupine and rabbits, then skin and eat them; but she is exhausted almost out of her mind.
From beginning of the novel to the end, Lillian almost completes a full circle around the top of the earth. The novel offers the best and the worst of big city living, frontier town adventure, and the beauty of raw nature.
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...
(The entire section is 3,270 words.)