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Fugitive Pieces: A Novel Paperback – May 26, 1998
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Anne Michaels, an accomplished poet, has already published two collections of poetry in her native Canada. She turns her hand to fiction in an impressive debut novel, Fugitive Pieces. This is the story of Jakob Beer, a Polish Jew, translator, and poet who, as a child, witnessed his family's slaughter at the hands of the Nazis. Beer himself was found and smuggled out of Poland by Athos Roussos, a Greek archaeologist who carried him back to Greece and kept him there in precarious safety. After the war they emigrated together to Canada. Jakob's story is told through diaries discovered by Ben, a young man whose parents are Holocaust survivors and who is a vessel for their memories just as Jakob is the bearer of his own.
Fugitive Pieces is a book about memory and forgetting. How is it possible to love the living when our hearts are still with the dead? What is the difference between what historical fact tells us and what we remember? More than that, the novel is a meditation on the power of language to free our souls and allow us to find our own destinies. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
From Publishers 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 metier 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. 35,000 first printing.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
While Michaels'novel does not offer a series of perfectly arranged plot sequences,it does something that is far superior; the story presents a spiritual revelation of sorts, about living and dying (about having lived and having died); one that will leave you staring into space, appropriately silent, shocked, moved-for days, maybe months. There are moments in her story that still make me weep openly, though I am not typically an emotional reader. Lyrical and poetic, and yes- Ondaatjesque, but better, Michaels takes us a step further than even beautiful language and immaculate fragments, to the delicate, opaque meanings behind gesture and memory.
If truly exceptional writing is able to name truths we already recognize but cannot always name, Michaels does this repeatedly, flawlessly and I think, unpretentiously: "After years, at any moment, our bodies are ready to remember us." Already, my copy of the novel is carefully marked in countless places I want to remember, words and phrases that stopped me in my tracks: "Some stones are so heavy only silence helps you carry them." I am a 34 year old black man -an African immigrant living in Boston-and she spoke to me-very clearly. Buy this book only if you are ready for this kind of confrontation with beautiful, raw truth.
This is the sort of lyrical construction that fills a brillant book that works much better as a lyrical prose poem than it does as a novel, as structurally the book is seriously flawed. The characters remain elusively imcomplete due to haphazard breaks in the story line. For example, though Jacob's second wife obviously is the true love of his life, she has no significant role in the narrative other than that of a shadow as, shortly after she's introduced, the novel changes direction entirely, adopting a new protagonist, Ben, who is trying to recover Jacobs papers after his death. All rather awkward.
As a result, too many significant characters are insubstaintial shadows, not the substantive elements of the story they obviously shape but, in the structure of the book, don't really participate in.
Frustrating though these structural flaws may be, and they are frustrating indeed, Ms. Michaels nevertheless infuses this novel with such lyrical, poetic allusion, such passion, and such a keen eye for spiritual anomie that the book is, in the end, well worth reading and savoring.
My hope is that future works will work better stylisctically and structurally yet remain at the same overall level of artistic accomplishment as is realized in this novel.
No other book that I've read provides such a sense of the dead--all those who once lived on earth and now are deep within the bogs, at the bottoms of the sea, in mass graves, in archaeological sites--to be dug up and remembered by the archaeologists who are like priests of memory. This book is really about memory and how we owe it to the dead to remember them: Jacob remembers his beloved sister Bella who died in the Holocaust; Athos remembers the dead of the excavated city Biskupin in Polland where he rescued Jacob; Jacob finishes Athos' work as a way to honor his memory and the learning he imparted; Ben remembers Jacob and his poetry and finds in his poetry and journals answers to his profoundest dilemmas.
We numb ourselves to atrocities such as the Holocaust because the horror is so great; but books like this help us remember and pay homage to those who suffered. It's a beautiful book even though the structure is flawed and the language not always perfection. Still, it's superior to 95% of what's on the market.