Fugitive Pieces

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Anne Michaels's fiercely beautiful debut novel tells the interlocking stories of three men of different generations whose lives are transformed by the events and shifting effects of the same war. At its center is poet Jakob Beer: traumatically orphaned as a young boy during the Second World war, rescued from the mud of a buried Polish city and secreted to a Greek island by Athos Roussos, scientist, scholar, and, above all, humanist. After the war, in Toronto, where Athos has accepted a teaching post at the ...
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Fugitive Pieces

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Anne Michaels's fiercely beautiful debut novel tells the interlocking stories of three men of different generations whose lives are transformed by the events and shifting effects of the same war. At its center is poet Jakob Beer: traumatically orphaned as a young boy during the Second World war, rescued from the mud of a buried Polish city and secreted to a Greek island by Athos Roussos, scientist, scholar, and, above all, humanist. After the war, in Toronto, where Athos has accepted a teaching post at the University, Jakob is faced with the tangible, insistent nature of the recent past: his own surfacing in all its darkness and profundity, the question of his beloved sister's fate its harrowing focus. Yet this is also the time when he meets the woman who will become his first wife, and begins his life-long work as a translator and poet. And in this layered process of reentering life, Jakob learns the power of language - to destroy, to omit, and to obliterate; but also to witness and tell, conjure and restore. And it is in Toronto as well that, late in his life, Jakob will cross paths with Ben: a young professor, expert in the dramas of weather and biography but naive in the drama of his own life. The quiet elation Ben senses in the older man, and Ben's own connection to the wounding legacies of the war, kindle a fascination with Jakob and his writing, upsetting and then opening that part of himself long since shut down against his knowledge of the past.

A stunning debut novel from an award-winning poet. Jakob Beer, traumatically orphaned as a young child during World War II, learns over his lifetime the power of language to destroy, omit, and obliterate, and also to restore, conjure and witness, as he comes to understand and experience the extent of what was lost to him and of what is possible to regain.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Extraordinarily magical. . .fierce, deeply unsettling.
Boston Globe
Word by blessed word, it is a gorgeously written book.
Kate Moses

Elegiac and redemptive, Fugitive Pieces, the first novel by Canadian poet Anne Michaels, is a beautifully written, quietly forceful reminder of "the large human values." A story of decency, compassion and hope under extraordinary duress, it is above all an argument for the healing power of words.

"I did not witness the most important events of my life," says Jakob Beer, the book's central character. While hiding in a cupboard in his family's home in Poland, the 7-year-old overhears the brutal murder of his parents by Nazi soldiers. Jakob escapes, terrified and wild with grief, into the forest. Caked with the mud he uses to camouflage himself, he is discovered by a Greek geologist, Athos Roussos, who smuggles him to Greece under his coat.

The scholarly, gentle Athos hides Jakob through the war years in the sun-drenched, book-lined rooms of his island house and later raises the boy to manhood in Toronto. From Athos, Jakob learns the consoling language of geology: "To go back a year or two was impossible, absurd. To go back millennia -- ah! that was ... nothing." Athos' stories of buried cities, the bravery of Antarctic explorers who perished while sledging fossils back from the South Pole, Bronze Age safety pins and salt cakes used as money are tonic to Jakob's scarred imagination. Haunted by his own terrible history, Jakob is burdened by "images rising in me like bruises": of his parents' murder, of the likely death of his sister, of the suffering of the victims of the war.

The same imagination that tortures Jakob is the instrument of his salvation. Michaels describes Jakob's slow rebirth in evocative, tactile language that recalls Michael Ondaatje. While thinking of the Nazis' mass graves, the bodies covered with only a dusting of soil, he remembers the discovery, in 1942, of the cave paintings of Lascaux: "twenty-six feet below they burst to life in lamplight: the swimming deer, floating horses, rhinos, ibex ... their hides sweating iron oxide and manganese." Fragments of memory, conversations, details from Athos' stories accrete into a richly depicted psychological landscape that lends credibility not only to Jakob as a character but also to his decision to become a poet. "Write to save yourself," Athos had advised him, "and someday you'll write because you've been saved."

Michaels stumbles only when, in her account of Jakob's second marriage, she insists too much on the healing power of sexual love. Overall, however, Fugitive Pieces moves compellingly toward Jakob's final realization: that a survivor's job is not to remain with the dead, but to survive them. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Searing the mind with stunning images while seducing with radiant prose, this brilliant first novel is a story of damaged lives and the indestructibility of the human spirit. It speaks about loss, about the urgency, pain and ultimate healing power of memory, and about the redemptive power of love. Its characters come to understand the implacability of the natural world, the impartial perfection of science, the heartbreak of history. The narrative is permeated with insights about language itself, its power to distort and destroy meaning, and to restore it again to those with stalwart hearts. During WWII, when Jakob Beer is seven, his parents are murdered by Nazi soldiers who invade their Polish village, and his beloved, musically talented 15-year-old sister, Bella, is abducted. Fleeing from the blood-drenched scene, he is magically saved by Greek geologist Athos Roussos, who secretly transports the traumatized boy to his home on the island of Zakynthos, where they live through the Nazi occupation, suffering privations but escaping the atrocities that decimate Greece's Jewish community. Jakob is haunted by the moment of his parents' death-the burst door, buttons spilling out of a saucer onto the floor, darkness-and his spirit remains sorrowfully linked with that of his lost sister, whose fate anguishes him. But he travels in his imagination to the places that Athos describes and the books that this kindly scholar provides. At war's end, Athos accepts a university post in Toronto, and Jakob begins a new life. Yet he remains disoriented and unmoored, trapped by memory and grief, "a damaged chromosome"-the more so after Athos' premature death. By then, however, Jakob has discovered his mtier as poet and essayist and strives to find in language the meaning of his life. The miraculous gift of a soul mate in his second wife, "voluptuous scholar" Michaela, comes late for Jakob. Their marriage is brief, and ends in stunning irony. The second part of the novel concerns a younger man, Ben, who is profoundly influenced by Jakob's poetry and goes to the Greek island of Idhra in an attempt to find the writer's notebooks after his death. Ben is another damaged soul. The son of Holocaust survivors, he carries their sorrow like a heavy stone. Emotionally maimed and fearful, Ben feels that he was "born into absence... a hiding place, rotted out by grief.'' Yet when it seems that the past will go on wreaking destruction, Jakob's writings, and the example of his life, show Ben the way to acknowledge love and to accept a future. These intertwined stories are related by Canadian poet Michaels in incandescent prose, dark and tender and poetically lyrical. A bestseller in Canada, the novel will make readers yearn to share it with others, to read sentences and entire passages aloud, to debate its message, to acknowledge its wisdom.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Three collections of poems by novelist Michaels (Fugitive Pieces) have been brought together for their first U.S. publication: The Weight of Oranges, Miner's Pond and Skin Divers. As the sensuousness of these titles suggests, Michaels goes for a portentous lyric well-stocked with physical details, action verbs, simile and metaphor--"we are black smudges on the frozen river"; "We were sent for a reason,/ like curtains blown in from an open window/ to knock over a cup." When she writes from a perspective one assumes to be her own ("Miner's Pond"; "Words for the Body"), Michaels's lush and elliptical narratives are winning. Increasingly, her poems take historical figures and their lovers as subjects and speakers, echoing her work in historical fiction, and including Alfred Doblin, Johannes Kepler, Karen Blixen, Amedeo Modigliani, Anna Akhmatova and Marie Curie. These poems don't always carry the freight of their subjects' fame lightly, though, and by the book's second half the metaphors begin to misfire as bad homages, as in the Akhmatovesque "Birds plunge their cries like needles/ into the thick arm of afternoon." The worst merely recap generic moments of pathos in a tone more borrowed from biography than reanimated by sympathy. Fans of fellow Canadian and Knopf novelist-poet Michael Ondaatje may find much to admire here though, and the better poems should find a significant audience. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Peter Marinker's haunting recording about a Holocaust survivor captures the listener's attention with its melancholy ambiance. Ben, a young professor with his own Holocaust heritage, finds a poetic account of Jakob Beer's recollections of his life since the time his parents were murdered by Nazis when he was only seven years old. These pieces tell how Jakob was found, adopted, and taken to Greece by Athos Roussos, a scientist, scholar, and humanist. After the occupation, they move to Toronto, where Jakob learns the power of language, meets both his wives, and struggles with his memories. Michaels's tale reads like a true survivor story; highly recommended for all audio collections.--Sandy Glover, West Linn P.L., OR
Library Journal
Two stories form the basis of this novel from award-winning Canadian poet Michaels. In the first, poet and Holocaust survivor Jakob Beer details his flight from occupied Poland and his life and travels with the man who aids his escape. Finally, he settles in Toronto, where he finds a woman who helps free him from the horrific war memories that paralyze his soul. Beer plays an important role in the life of Ben, who narrates the second story. Ben's appreciation of Beer's work leads to his eventual immersion in the author's life, examining himself through the poet's experiences and providing a different outlook on his own problematic relationships with his parents also war survivors and his wife. Michael's first novel demonstrates well how one person's life can touch and instruct another's through the power of words. Recommended for general collections.-Marc A. Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., Pa.
School Library Journal
YA-A survivor of his family's annihilation by the Nazis, young Jakob Beer hides in a Polish forest alone and traumatized, longing for his parents and sister Bella. He stumbles upon a Greek scientist, Athos Roussos, and is smuggled to the Greek island of Zakynthos. The novel, written like a memoir, weaves together Jakob's memories of his family and his life with Athos into a tapestry of pain and eventual healing. Reminiscent of Elie Wiesel's Night (Bantam, 1982), Michaels's language creates haunting images of sorrow, pain, loss, and self-discovery. Jakob becomes a poet and survives both Athos's death and an ill-conceived marriage before he finds love and peace. Ben, a professor who is the child of deeply wounded Holocaust survivors, meets Beer before his death and, through the man's poetry and notes, confronts his own family horrors and finds reconciliation. The memoirs flow back and forth freely and may be difficult for some YAs to follow. However, this is a stunning first novel that attests to the strength of the human spirit.Carol DeAngelo, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Kirkus Reviews
A moving tale of survival becomes a grave and stately hymn to the revivifying qualities of language and learning in this impressive debut by a Canadian poet.

The main narrator, Jakob Beer, who tells his story at age 60 in 1992, was a Polish survivor of the Holocaust who, after losing his entire family in 1939, was rescued by Antanasios Roussos, a middle-aged scholar and polymath, who took Jakob to safety and raised him on the Greek island of Zakynthos. Jakob's narrative is a rich chronicle of intellectual hungers generously satisfied, as "Athos's tales of geologists and explorers, cartographers and navigators" stimulate his young disciple's active imagination—an imagination also possessed by vivid memories of Jakob's dead parents and sister Bella, who appear to him as both vocal and visible presences. The pair travel to Athens, where Jakob's own insistent memories jostle against stories of that city's wartime sufferings, and thence to Toronto, where "Athos" has been invited to teach, and where he dies—leaving Jakob to complete his mentor's masterwork, a study of how the Nazis distorted archaeology to alter the past and "prove" Aryan supremacy. Jakob's life thereafter is devoted to his own writing (he is a gifted poet), to a search for love he never seems quite able to fulfill, and, centrally, to his progression from experiencing "the power of language to destroy to omit to obliterate" to discovering in `"poetry, the power of language to restore." Then, in an only partially successful shift, the novel's last third observes Jakob's later life and his legacy from the viewpoint of a younger friend and admirer, who is himself the child of Holocaust survivors and whose sensitivity to what Jakob's life signifies is aided by his own realization that "Every moment is two moments" (that is, the past is always present in the present).

A stunning work, quite beautifully written, and a lovely homage to the imperiled yet indomitable culture and individuals it celebrates.

From the Publisher
“It stands alone, a stunning testament to the shaping bonds of memory and of history.…”
London Free Press

“Extraordinary.…Michaels has dug deep and come up with treasure.”

“This is a novel to lose yourself in; let the language pour over you, depositing its richness like waves lapping sand onto a beach.”
The Times (U.K.)

Fugitive Pieces again strongly reminds us why people write novels, why people should read them.…Here is the real thing, literature.”
–Richard Bachmann, A Different Drummer Books

“Deserves to become a classic.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“The most important book I have read for 40 years.”
–John Berger, The Observer (U.K.)

“Word by blessed word, it is a gorgeously written book aflame with the sub-zero cold of history and the passions of emotional comprehension.”
Boston Globe

“Exquisitely fabricated, the words so precise, that one stands before it as if it were the Bayeux Tapestry, afraid to touch a single thread lest the entire chronicle unravel.”
Globe and Mail

“From time to time a novel appears that shocks with its beauty, its integrity, its humanity.…A stunning achievement.”
–Rosemary Sullivan, author of The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out

“Each page is alert with the grace and energy of a rare moral intelligence, expressing both love and shame for humanity.…Like all great fiction, it seeks to fulfil the mind's yearning. There is not an idle word in its telling.”
–Seán Virgo

“The book is beautifully written…ike turbulent water disturbing what lies in the depths.”
Books in Canada

“Ms. Michaels underscores the continuity of human experience, suggesting that just as we can inherit the pain and guilt of earlier generations, so too can we inherit understanding and beauty and grace.…”
New York Times Book Review

“An extraordinary piece of work. Founded on great ambition and carried through fearlessly.”
The Guardian (U.K.)

“It is one of the most important novels to come out of this country.”
–Peter Oliva, Calgary Herald

“She has the ability to take a reader's breath away with an image or a turn of phrase.”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“Reading this profound, graceful book is an unforgettable emotional and esthetic experience.”
–Kingston Whig-Standard

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780864922496
  • Publisher: Goose Lane Editions
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Series: BTC Audiobooks
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: First edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 5.67 (w) x 4.92 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Michaels is the author of three highly acclaimed poetry collections: The Weight of Oranges (1986), which won the Commonwealth Prize for the Americas; Miners Pond (1991), which received the Canadian Authors Association Award and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and the Trillium Award (these two volumes were published in a single-volume edition in 1997); and Skin Divers (1999).

Fugitive Pieces (1996) is Anne Michaels’ multi-award-winning, internationally bestselling first novel. In Canada, it was #1, and on the national bestseller list for more than two years. The literary prizes the novel has garnered to date are: In Canada, the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award; the City of Toronto Book Award; the Martin & Beatrice Fischer Award; the Trillium Book Award; and an Award of Merit from Heritage Toronto. In the U.K., the Guardian Fiction Award; the Jewish Quarterly Prize for Fiction; and the Orange Prize for Fiction. In the U.S., the Harold Ribalow Award and a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction. And in Italy, Giuseppe Acerbi Literary Award.

Anne Michaels lives in Toronto, where she is working on her next novel.

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Read an Excerpt

My sister had long outgrown the hiding place. Bella was fifteen and even I admitted she was beautiful, with heavy brows and magnificent hair like black syrup, thick and luxurious, a muscle down her back. "A work of art," our mother said, brushing it for her while Bella sat in a chair. I was still small enough to vanish behind the wallpaper in the cupboard, cramming my head sideways between choking plaster and beams, eyelashes scraping.

Since those minutes inside the wall, I've imagined the dean lose every sense except hearing. The burst door. Wood ripped from hinges, cracking like ice under the shouts. Noises never heard before, torn from my father's mouth. Then silence. My mother had been sewing a button on my shirt. She kept her buttons in a chipped saucer. I heard the rim of the saucer in circles on the floor. I heard the spray of buttons, little white teeth.

Blackness filled me, spread from the back of my head into my eyes as if my brain has been punctured. Spread from stomach to legs. I gulped and gulped, swallowing it whole. The wall filled with smoke. I struggled out and stared while the air caught fire.

I wanted to go to my parents, to touch them. But I couldn't, unless I stepped on their blood.

The soul leaves the body instantly, as if it can hardly wait to be free: my mother's face was not her own. My father was twisted with falling. Two shapes in the flesh-heap, his hands.

I ran and fell, ran and fell. Then the river: so cold it felt sharp.

The river was the same blackness that was inside me; only the thin membrane of my skin kept me floating.

From the other bank, I watched darkness turn to purple-orange light abovethe town; the color of flesh transforming to spirit. They flew up. The dead passed above me, weird haloes and arcs smothering the stars. The trees bent under their weight. I'd never been alone in the night forest, the wild bare branches were frozen snakes. The ground tilted and I didn't hold on. I strained to join them, to rise with them, to peel from the ground like paper ungluing at its edges. I know why we bury our dead and mark the place with stone, with the heaviest, most permanent thing we can think of: because the dead are everywhere but the ground. I stayed where I was. Clammy with cold, stuck to the ground. I begged: If I can't rise, then let me sink, sink into the forest floor like a seal into wax.
Then—as if she'd pushed the hair from my forehead, as if I'd heard her voice-I knew suddenly my mother was inside me. Moving along sinews, under my skin the way she used to move through the house at night, putting things away, putting things in order. She was stopping to say goodbye and was caught, in such pain, wanting to rise, wanting to stay. It was my responsibility to release her, a sin to keep her from ascending. I tore at my clothes, my hair. She was gone. My own fast breath around my head.

I ran from the sound of the river into the woods, dark as the inside of a box. I ran until the first light wrung the last grayness out of the stars, dripping dirty light between the trees. I knew what to do. I took a stick and dug. I planted myself like a turnip and hid my face with leaves.

My head between the branches, bristling points like my father's beard. I was safely buried, my wet clothes cold as armor. Panting like a dog. My arms tight up against my chest, my neck stretched back, tears crawling like insects into my ears. I had no choice but to look straight up. The dawn sky was milky with new spirits. Soon I couldn't avoid the absurdity of daylight even by closing my eyes. It poked down, pinned me like the broken branches, like my father's beard.

Then I felt the worst shame of my life: I was pierced with hunger. And suddenly I realized, my throat aching without sounds — Bella.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Copyright 1999 by Anne Michaels
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Reading Group Guide

1. Why is the first section of the novel entitled "The Drowned City?" Why is the title repeated for a later section?

2. Jakob says that Athos's fascination with Antarctica "was to become our azimuth. It was to direct the course of our lives" [33]. Why do you think Antarctica obsessed Athos? How does the story of the Scott expedition relate to that of Athos and Jakob? Do you agree with Jakob that Athos's fascination directed their lives?

3. "When the prisoners were forced to dig up the mass graves, the dead entered them through their pores and were carried through their bloodstreams to their brains and hearts. And through their blood into another generation" [52], Jakob writes, and later, "It's no metaphor to feel the influence of the dead in the world" [53]. How does the theme of the dead's influence on the living work itself out in the course of the novel?

4. The communist partisans in Greece, who had valiantly resisted the occupying Nazis, themselves committed terrible atrocities after the war, as Kostas and Daphne relate. Do you agree with their theory that violence is like an illness that can be caught, and that the Greeks caught it from the Germans [72]? What other explanations can be offered?

5. "I already knew the power of language to destroy, to omit, to obliterate, " says Jakob. "But poetry, the power of language to restore: this was what both Athos and Kostas were trying to teach me" [79]. What instances does the novel give of the destructive power of language? In what ways does writing—both the writing of poetry and of translations—help to heal and restore Jakob? Doessilence—the cessation of language—have its own function, and if so, what might it be?

6. "We were a vine and a fence. But who was the vine? We would both have answered differently" [108]. Here Jakob is speaking of his relationship with Athos; of what other relationships in the novel might this metaphor be used? Does Michaels imply that dependence is an integral part of love?

7. What is it about Alex's character that attracts Jakob and makes him fall in love with her? Why does he eventually find life with her impossible? Do you find Alex a sympathetic character, or an unpleasant one?

8. "History is amoral: events occurred. But memory is moral" [138]. "Every moment is two moments" [161]. How does Jakob define and differentiate history and memory? Can you see Fugitive Pieces as a comparison of history and memory?

9. Music is an important element of Fugitive Pieces, and it is central to the lives of at least three of the characters, Bella, Alex, and Naomi. What does music mean to each of these characters? Why has Michaels given music such a prominent metaphoric role in the novel?

10. What does Fugitive Pieces say about the condition of being an immigrant? Jakob never feels truly at home anywhere, even in Greece. Ben's parents feel that their toehold in their new home is infinitely precarious, an emotion that communicates itself to Ben. Does Michaels imply that real integration is impossible?

11. Can you explain the very different reactions Ben's parents have had to their experience in the Holocaust? What in their characters has determined the differing ways they respond to grief and loss?

12. The relationship between Ben and Naomi is a troubled one. Why is he angry at her for her closeness to his parents and her attention to their graves? Why does he reject her by leaving for Greece without her? How can you explain his intense desire for Petra—is his need purely physical? How do Petra and Naomi differ? What is the significance of their names?

13. Science has as important a role in the novel as poetry and music. Why is geology so important to Athos, meteorology to Ben? Does science represent a standard of disinterested truth, or does it merely symbolize the world's terrifying contingency?

14. Why might Jakob have named his collection of poems Groundwork, and in what way does that title relate to his life? Jakob calls his young self a "bog-boy" [5]. Why does Ben take such an interest in the preserved bog people he reads about [221]?

15. The last line of the novel is Ben's: "I see that I must give what I most need." What does he mean by this? What does he most need, what will he give, and to whom?

16. What is the significance of the novel's title? What do "pieces, " or "fragments, " mean within Michaels's scheme? Where in the novel can you find references to fragments?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 22 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2003

    THE most boring book ever ....

    I was so excited about this book, but was greatly disappointed. Don't waste your time and money on this one. It has to be THE most boring book I've read in ages. And very difficult to read too. Unless if you're truly into poetry and poets and/or Geology or whatever the heck the characters were into, don't bother with this one. A huge disappointment. I want my money back!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2002


    This book was boring, confusing, and, overall, a thoroughly unenjoyable reading experience. I felt as if there was a mist in front of the book which preventing me from understanding anything that was occurring. I do not recommend this book and I cautoin anyone who wishes to read it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 23, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Jakob Beer is an eleven year old boy who after witnessing the de

    Jakob Beer is an eleven year old boy who after witnessing the death of his parents is found living within the destroyed Polish city of Biskupin by Athos Roussous, a scientist. Athos takes the boy back to an island in Greece. There on the island of Zakynthos, Athos teaches the boy about the sciences and the world while the Second World War rages on through Europe.
    The second part of the book is about Ben an expert on meteorology. He meets the sixty year old Jakob at a party in Canada and this encounter changes his life forever. 
    It is almost impossible to review this book without using the adjective, poetic. After reading the book and then researching the author Anne Michaels it came as no surprise that she has won awards for her poetry; the Commonwealth Prize for the Americas and the Canadian Association Award to name but a few. The language of poetry seeps and bleeds through every sentence, every paragraph and every page.

    On Zakynthos sometimes the silence shimmers with the overtone of bees. Their bodies roll in the air, powdery with golden weight. The field was heavy with daisies, honeysuckle, and broom. Athos said: “Greek lamentation burns the tongue. Greek tears are ink for the dead to write their lives.”

    Greece was devastated by the war and the occupation by the German forces. Nearly half a million people died during the occupation and almost all of the Jewish community were wiped out. The island of Zakynthos, where Athos takes Jakob, is symbolic of the ideals and the wonders of the planet that Athos teaches the young Jakob. The population of Zakynthos during WWII showed immense bravery by refusing to hand over a list of the Jewish community to the Nazis for deportation to the death camps. In fact all the Jewish people on the island survived thanks mainly to Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos who hid all 275 Jews in rural villages. 
    Fugitive Pieces is a book about so many things; geology, meteorology, persecution, isolation, archaeology, ideology, inhumanity, identity etc. It weaves these subjects through the lives, loves, families and friends of Athos, Jakob and Ben. All three are all repelled by and fascinated by the world and the people within. All three believe in the need for company but would prefer to sit in their room writing and reading or walking alone through the streets at night. Jakob eschews natural and artificial light for the comfort of darkness. Ben is fascinated by the volatility and unpredictable nature of lightning and twisters. 
    Weather and nature are as much characters within the book as the main protagonists. They are both the enemy and ally of the main characters. They permeate and suffuse the book with their destructiveness and their beauty. 

    “We think of the weather as transient, changeable, and above all, ephemeral; but everywhere nature remembers. Trees, for example, carry the memory of rainfall. In their rings we read ancient weather – storms, sunlight, and temperatures, the growing seasons of centuries. A forest shares a history, which each tree remembers even after it has been felled.”

    Amongst all this beautiful, profound and elegiac language lies the horror of the nature of man. The German occupying force throwing babies from hospital windows while soldiers ‘catch’ them on their bayonets while complaining about the sleeves of their uniform being soaked in blood. The people of Greece die from starvation as the German Army utilise all foodstuffs. Greeks today identify the word occupation with famine and hunger. It is due to the horrors of WWII that the Greeks today were disgusted at the notion of German Chancellor Merkel in 2011 imposing austerity measures on their country.
    Fugitive Pieces is great piece of literature that is written with aplomb, intelligence and an eye for the poetic. However, it may be that very style of language that will repel as many people as it will attract. The book’s narrative is at times oblique and minimalist. There is no authorial hand-holding through the forest of complexities that the narrative follows.
    This book won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 1997. Having only read four of the six shortlisted books for that year I cannot yet decide if I agree with the judges decision. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2007

    More, please

    I was so impressed by this outstanding novel that I read four years ago, that I have since been waiting for more works by this incredible author. I keep scanning her name, every three months or so, with the expectation of getting another treat from her. The best poetic novelist I have read in the last ten years.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2006


    The book was beautiful at first, with interesting metaphors. But as the book goes on, I can't help but get the feeling that the author was trying too hard to be 'insightful' and 'deep' with her topics, 'beautiful' and 'descriptive' with her language, and 'unique' in her style. I see no coherent plot in this book and I wonder if there is one at all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2003


    The book had many passages and quotes which I loved. The tidbits are what make this book a thought provoking, intellectual read. I wasn't expecting much out of an assigned book, and the first time I read it I was slightly disappointed. But then, we were told to go back and pick out passages that we liked. I couldn't believe how many little tidbits I could relate to. The story was confusing and haphazard, but the revelations that occurred because of these events made the book worth the confusion. It really is rather deep and insightful. I liked it and recommend it to anyone who'd like a look into the human soul.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2003

    I learned what it means to live

    I read it for my school; when I started it, I was not expecting myself to enjoy a book that my school is making me read. Then I realized that this book includes every pieces of emotions that I need to live as a human. I believe that this book can be hard and confusing, but don't just look at the surface; there are things that are invisible but very important. You need to think, that is what we should be doing in general. That IS what it means to be human.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2003

    The Most Beautiful book I have read in 20 years

    This is the most beautifully written and sinsitive book I have read since Carson McCuller's Heart of a Lonely Hunter. Ms. Michaels - in beautifully poetic prose, took me right into the heart of the characters and what they must face and subsequently do. I found myself in the wall hiding with the boy. I found my heart pounding as he hid in the forest and water. I felt deeply concerned as they approached the border. And truly moved as they moved on. The adult parallels are so beautifully sad adn true to the human experience, that I still find myself moved years after I had read the book. I give it as a gift to everyone I know who loves to read. Her writing is nothing short of poetry. The story is extremely humane and will resonate in me for years and years. (I've re-read ot four times now). I check the weekly NY Times book review in the hopes of finding her next book. Oprah should recommedd this for all readers. It is a truly beautiful book! Truly a gift for our times.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2003


    As the back cover states '..a book that should not so much be read as it should be surrendered to'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2002

    Beautiful, poignant, storytelling at it's best.

    Incredable story, beautifully written. Rarely does a novel have such impact. The story, the writing...beyond words!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2002

    Love's Perpetual Thrist

    Fugitive Pieces is Canadian poet Anne Michaels' first novel and it is beautiful in the extreme. At the heart of this lovely and moving book is the struggle to understand the despair of loss and the solace of love and, most of all, the difficulty of reconciling the two. The protagonists are two Jewish men, one a Holocaust survivor, the other the son of Holocaust survivor parents. Material such as that explored in Fugitive Pieces could very easily become trite and cliched, but in Michaels' extraordinarily gifted hands suffering, loss and grief become nothing less than transcendent. An extraordinarily gifted writer, Michaels creates wonderful characters and tells an engrossing story through the use of gorgeous, but spare, dialogue and subtle metaphor. The plot is a rather simple one (this is definitely a character driven story) but it is profound and also a profoundly moving meditation on the nature of grief and the redemptive power of love. The first line in the book, 'Time is a blind guide,' is haunting, but it is also ironic, for the story will prove that time is anything but blind. One of the protagonists, Jakob Beer, was orphaned as a seven-year old boy in Poland. Although the death of his parents affects Jakob most greviously, it is his sorrow at the death of his beloved older sister, Bella, that will remain with him for a lifetime. Jakob, himself, escapes the Nazis and flees into the forests of Poland where he is rescued by a Greek geologist, Athos Roussos, who eventually smuggles the boy to the Greek island of Zakynthos. On Zakynthos, Jakob can finally begin to put his life back together again. He is, however, haunted by memories of Bella, a gifted pianist. It is Bella who ultimately becomes Jakob's Beatrice as he begins his fascination with the poetry that will play a central role in the balance of his life. Athos, himself a widower, and Jakob, an orphan, seem to find in each other what they thought they had forever lost: a sense of family and abiding love and trust. As Athos finds joy in raising Jakob, Jakob finds joy in the values Athos seeks to instill in him: the love of language, scholarship and ethics. Although Athos seeks to heal Jakob, he does not attempt to obliterate his past. Ïnstead, Athos encourages Jakob to learn his Hebrew alphabet, telling him it is the future he is remembering rather than the past. As Jakob practices both the twisting and ornate letters of Hebrew and Greek, Athos tells him that both languages contain the 'ancient loneliness of ruins.' The narrative eventually moves from Greece to Toronto where Jakob becomes the product of his love for the late Bella and the teachings of Athos. The love given him so freely by both will serve as a continuum for the rest of Jakob's life as he realizes that the best teachers encourage, not the mind, but the heart. Jakob comes to know that Athos instilled in him the necessity of love and, that, to honor both Athos and Bella he must resolve a 'perpetual thirst.' The story closes with the character of Ben, a young professor who has become fascinated by both Jakob and his work. Their relationship is reminiscent of the relationship of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce's Ulysses. Ben's family was the very antithesis of the relationship shared by Athos and Jakob. In Ben's family there was no energy, no love, no sadness. Ben seeks strength and purpose in Jakob's life and in his words, words that have the ability to transmute the horror of war and the loss of family. Words that have the power to speak that which, heretofore, has remained unspoken. Fugitive Pieces is a beautiful novel, a meditation on love and loss and grief and solace. It is a quiet book but one that is immensely profound. Anne Michaels is a gifted poet and with Fugitive Pieces she proves that she is an extraordinary gifted writer of prose as well.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2001


    The author, with poetic and magical images, takes one to a holy place, that exudes humanity and beauty in a relentless search for that which is lost.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2000

    Moving and Beautiful

    Not only is the language beautiful in this book, the story is unusual and very moving. How often do read about a man transcending race, religion and laws to take care of a child? Fugitive Pieces is a unique story of love, admiration, personal growth and heroism. The words alone in this book are so beautifully strung together that each page is its own amazing piece of art and as a whole it is a masterpiece.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2000

    Pieces That Fit

    This is an exceptional book with a rich language that traces a young boy's life into manhood. Written in a poetic language, Michaels captures and exposes the spirit of her characters.

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