Interview with Amy Bloom - Aviva - Berlin Online Magazin und Informationsportal für Frauen Interviews im Dezember 2023 - Beitrag vom 07.03.2008

Interview with Amy Bloom
Kristina Tencic

After a tremendous success in the USA, Bloom´s novel "Away" has also been published in German. AVIVA-Berlin talked to the Jewish-American author about her novel and its film adaption, why she... blessed with luck, and also her upcoming projects.

AVIVA-Berlin: First I want to compliment you on your novel "Away"! I couldn´t put it down. My first question to you is, if you had to describe the content of the book in one sentence, what would you say?
Amy Bloom: I would say that it is a modern 19th century novel.

AVIVA-Berlin: Lillian, the protagonist of "Away", is a heroine, and a mother. She loves her child and would do anything for it, and in this respect Lilian is simply a typical mother – anyone you could find in the world. What is so special about her that made you want to tell her story?

Amy Bloom: Well, I think you could find her anywhere in the world because she is also an immigrant, and she is also a woman who has to make her way in the world without a lot of power or education or resources. And you know, she is also a person who is struggling to recover from loss. The odyssey she is going through is something that makes her heroic. It is not that she is a mother, but that she is just unwilling to give up what makes her so special.

AVIVA-Berlin: And can you identify with Lillian?
Amy Bloom: No, my life has been a walk in the park compared to Lillian. I made trips, but nothing fantastic like Lilian.

AVIVA-Berlin: In an interview with "Newsday" you said that you are "not such a delicate flower"...
Amy Bloom: That´s true, I´m not a delicate flower...

AVIVA-Berlin: Lillian...
Amy Bloom: Yes, I´m not a big admirer of delicate flowers either, I think. You know, sitting by the side of the road, crying into your handkerchief, waiting for somebody to fix it. That is probably not a great way to make your way through the world. Because somebody will fix it, but not charge you for it.

AVIVA-Berlin: How and when was the first time you heard from the "woman who walked to Russia", the legend on which your story is based?
Amy Bloom:The first time I heard about this, I was eleven years old and my father mentioned it. He was a journalist and said about the story ´I don´t think that´s true´. When I got to Alaska, I did some researched and it got clear that although the journalists loved this story, there really wasn´t much fact attached to it. Still, the story stayed with me for about 30 years.

AVIVA-Berlin: You have Russian-Jewish roots...
Amy Bloom: Yes, all four of my grandparents.

AVIVA-Berlin: …and how did your background influence the book and your interest in the research?
Amy Bloom: Well, my interest in the research was just that I have never done research before - and I have to say that it was as much fun to do research in Seattle as it was on the Lower East Side. But certainly, beginning in Russia and in New York was easier, because I could hear the voices in my head - I could hear people´s accents, I could hear their inflection and it was great to have a familiar platform.

AVIVA-Berlin: Why was it important for you to describe the individuals with their whole story of life?
Amy Bloom: It was the thing that I loved about 19th century novels, I loved the epilog. I always liked the idea of knowing more about what happens when the book ends or when the character left the page.

AVIVA-Berlin: Is this also related to your work as a therapist?
Amy Bloom: I wouldn´t say so. I mean, I actually have done this in my short strories as well, sort of move forward in time. It seems to me as one of the great pleasures of beeing a writer is that you can move through time and space however you want.

AVIVA-Berlin: The figure of Mr Chang has just a short appearance in the book. Does he have a key-role because he is a therapist?
Amy Bloom: Well I think it is very nice to describe Mr Chang as a therapist, given that he is a con-man and a liar. Mr Chang actually comes out of an experience from when I was a teenager. I used to work for a fortune-teller and she was certainly not a therapist any more than Mr Chang is, but she was a very good observer of human behaviour.

AVIVA-Berlin: Your book "Normal" is about gender and sexuality. How much did this influence the figure of Lillian? Is she a feminist with respect to the time she lives in?
Amy Bloom: I assume that whether they acknowledge it or not, I think any woman who is prepared to take her chances in the world has to be a feminist. I´m sure that there is more than one kind. To me, not being a feminist is like being a monarchist, it just strikes me as a certain unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of your life. But I understand that until the world is run by men who are feminists it´s not a very popular thing to say. So I don´t hold it against women if they are quiet then.

AVIVA-Berlin: "Away" was, after a novel, several short-stories and non-fictional books, your second fictional novel – are you planning to write, or maybe are already working on another novel?
Amy Bloom: I thought I would. Rather than going to hang on it.

AVIVA-Berlin:And could you please tell us a bit about it?
Amy Bloom: It is set in the 1930s and it is about three half-siblings. I think probably what I tend to write about is love and language, and the nature of life.

AVIVA-Berlin: Do you think there is a difference between the ideals in America, like freedom, wealth, happiness, in the 1920s, when the story occurs, and the present?
Amy Bloom: No, actually I think the 1920s was a very modern time, much like the present in America. You know, people wanted money and success and it didn´t even matter what the nature or the celebrity was. The twenties was a strange period where, just think of the musical "Chicago", if you shot your husband and you were good looking, you could still become famous. And the way that sort of peculiar wish to be famous – often for nothing, but never the less famous. There are always these tensions in America between being supportive, being part of a community and the nature of individual rights. You are free to go and become whomever you want. You can invent yourself as many times as you need to.

AVIVA-Berlin: The story of Lillian is also a story about luck. Do you think that luck plays a great role in your life?
Amy Bloom: Absolutely! I have three healthy children and a husband that I love. I have work that I love to do and people appreciate it and (knock on wood) I feel as lucky as I can.

AVIVA-Berlin: I was wondering why you made the character of Gumdrop, an African-American prostitute, convert and marry a Jew.
Amy Bloom:Well, it seems a hard thing to say about a character. I mean Gumdrop appeared to me as an African-American, so I wrote her that way. In retrospect, I think I am interested in immigrants and arrivals of all kinds and certainly in America. African-Americans like most Jews in my country don´t know anything about their families past their grandparents, it tends to be lost. And so I wanted a character that is in fact grounded in her family and again, I wanted to write about the way in which people in America invent themselves. It was very much my belief that when you meet these nice, well-dressed, well-spoken middle-aged ladies at the lady´s lunching, you have no idea what their story is. And that´s Gumdrop.

AVIVA-Berlin: Do you know something about the story of your ancestors?
Amy Bloom: Not at all, my grandparents never spoke about the past.

AVIVA-Berlin: If this book were to be produced as a movie, which actress would you want to play Lillian?
Amy Bloom: Well, I would have liked the young Meryl Streep but she is not available. Since we are actually sort of in the middle of negotiating for the movie, I probably can´t say very much, but if the young Meryl Streep shows up, that would make me very happy.

AVIVA-Berlin: Thank you very much for the interview!

Please read our review on Die unglaubliche Reise der Lillian Leyb (the German title of "Away") by Amy Bloom.

For futher information please do visit Amy Blooms Website at:


Beitrag vom 07.03.2008

Kristina Tencic