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Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

Fugitive Pieces (original 1996; edition 1998)

by Anne Michaels

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2,213452,929 (3.77)1 / 294
Title:Fugitive Pieces
Authors:Anne Michaels
Info:London : Bloomsbury, 1998
Collections:Novels & Novellas

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Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels (1996)

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From what I remember, this was an assured and poetic debut novel which deeply impressed me. I would need to read it again to write a review that does it justice. ( )
  bodachliath | Nov 4, 2014 |
You pick up a book about the Holocaust or World War II and you expect it to be powerful, you expect it to be moving or touching or force you to envision all kinds of things that should never be forgotten for the sake of those who were lost. What you don't expect is the perfection of a recipe that blends what you already know with some things you weren't familiar with, then stirs that together with the emotion of getting away while others did not. This book doesn't throw the events at you, but it does not ignore them either. It is the story of one boy who survives the tragedy of losing his family and lives on an island in relative contentment while others hide away or are lost forever. But his isn't the only survivor's guilt readers encounter.

The writing is simply excellent; each character's emotion shared with perfect clarity, each phrase or paragraph making you reflect and live, both at the same time. The book comes in two parts and the transition between the two is sharp and stunning, without much explanation for a short time, which reflects the nature of the need to change from one first person narrator to the other. That splitting of story and narrator also points out to us how one life can touch another, how we each bring change to those we meet. These little details draw the reader deeply in to the story.

Anne Michaels is a poet and the words within these pages show that with brilliance. If you read one book about surviving World War II, let it be this one. The emotional and verbal beauty put in to the retelling of the events of the holocaust is a more than fitting tribute to those who were not "buried in ground that will remember" them. ( )
1 vote mirrani | Jan 28, 2014 |
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.
  Kitscot | Nov 23, 2013 |
It is written in two sections, called Book I and Book II. The first follows the story of Jakob Beer, who as a Jewish child in Poland narrowly escapes being killed by the Nazis. He is rescued by a Greek geologist, Athos Roussos, who adopts him and takes him to live on Zakynthos in Greece. After the war the pair immigrate to Toronto. The novel follows Jakob's life as he marries and goes through life. The second book is written from the perspective of an admirer of Jakob's poetry, Ben.

The novel is written in a poetic style with persistent layers of metaphor, often called forth via Athos Roussos. Roussos' paleobotanical research involves peeling back physical layers of archaeological strata as well as temporal layers of change and decay. The novel explores themes of trauma, grief, loss, and memory, as well as discovery both personal and scientific. (Wikipedia) ( )
  Kristelh | Nov 16, 2013 |
"But sometimes the world disrobes, slips its dress off a shoulder, stops time for a beat. If we look up at that moment, itÛªs not due to any ability of ours to pierce the darkness, it‰Ûªs the world‰Ûªs brief bestowal. The catastrophe of grace."

"I fell in love amid the clattering of spoons" ( )
  helynrob | Aug 13, 2013 |
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During the Second World War, countless manuscripts -- diaries, memoirs, eyewitness accounts -- were lost or destroyed. Some of these narratives were deliberately hidden--buried in back gardens, tucked into walls and under floors--by those who did not live to retrieve them.
A parable: A respected rabbi is asked to speak to the congregation of a neighboring village. The rabbi, rather famous for his practical wisdom, is approached for advice wherever he goes. Wishing to have a few hours to himself on the train, he disguises himself in shabby clothes and, with his withered posture, passes for a peasant. The disguise is so effective that he evokes disapproving stares and whispered insults from the well-to-do passengers around him. When the rabbi arrives at his destination, he's met by the dignitaries of the community who greet him with warmth and respect, tactfully ignoring his appearance. Those who ridiculed him on the train realize his prominence and their error and immediately beg his forgiveness. The old man is silent. For months after, these Jews - who, after all, consider themselves good an pious men - implore the rabbi to absolve them. Finally, when almost a year has passed, they come to the old man on the Day of Awe when, it is written, each man must forgive his fellow. But the rabbi refuses to speak. Exasperated, they finally raise their voices: How can a holy man commit such a sin -- to withhold forgiveness on this day of days? The rabbi smiles seriously . "All this time you have been asking the wrong man. You must ask the man on the train to forgive you."
The night you and I met, Jakob, I heard you tell my wife that there's a moment when love makes us believe in death for the first time. You recognize the one whose loss, even contemplated, you'll carry forever, like a sleeping child. All grief, anyone's grief, you said, is the weight of a sleeping child.
She was stopping to say goodbye and was caught, in such pain, wanting to rise, wanting to stay.
My father said, 'That man is a Hebrew and he carries the pride of his people.' Later I learned that most of the men who worked at the docks in Salonika were Jews and that the yehudi mahallari, the Hebrew quarter, was built along the harbour.
Translation is a kind of transubstantiation; one poem becomes another. You can choose your philosophy of translation just as you could choose how to live: the free adaptation that sacrifices detail to meaning, the strict crib that sacrifices meaning to exactitude. The poet moves from life to language, the translator moves from language to life; both, like the immigrant, try to identify the invisible, what’s between the lines, the mysterious implications.”
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679776591, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:35 -0400)

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A tale of Holocaust survival whose protagonist is Jakob Beer, a Jewish boy in Poland. He is saved from death by a Greek scientist who takes him home to his island, where Beer develops an interest in archeology. He describes the way the Nazis manipulated archeology to prove the superiority of the Aryan race. A first novel.… (more)

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