Fugitive Pieces by Anne MichaelsFugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

Fugitive Pieces

byAnne Michaels

Paperback | March 26, 1999

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Anne Michaels’ spellbinding début novel has quickly become one of the most beloved and talked-about books of the decade. As a young boy during the Second World War, Jakob Beer is rescued from the mud in Poland by an unlikely saviour, the scientist Athos Roussos, and he is taken to Greece, then, at war’s end, to Toronto. It is here that his loss gradually surfaces, as does the haunting question of his sister’s fate. Later in life, as a translator and a poet, and now with the glorious Michaela, Jakob meets Ben, a young professor whose own legacies of the war kindle within him a fascination with the older man and his writing. Fugitive Pieces is a work of rare vision that is at once lyrical, sensual, profound. With its vivid evocation of landscape and character, its unique excavation of memory and time, it is a wholly unforgettable novel that draws us into the lives of its characters with compassion and recognition.
Anne Michaels is the author of three highly acclaimed poetry collections: The Weight of Oranges (1986), which won the Commonwealth Prize for the Americas; Miner’s 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 publish...
Title:Fugitive PiecesFormat:PaperbackDimensions:312 pages, 8.45 × 5.56 × 0.79 inPublished:March 26, 1999Publisher:McClelland & StewartLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0771058853

ISBN - 13:9780771058851

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Rated 1 out of 5 by from Maudlin and depressing read The theme was depressing and I could not relate to the style of writing. Especially the constant use of similes and metaphors which I thought were ornamental; I just didn't "get it". The words looked pretty and seemed to flow, but what was she trying to say? Over-rated.
Date published: 2009-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An amazing story... Anne Michaels did a wonderful job on this piece. I haven't read her poetry (I plan to), but it's very clear that she writes it from this book. It just reads like poetry through it's flow and metaphors. The story of Jakob and those in his life (Bella, Athos, Alexandra, Naomi, Ben, Michaela...) draw you in. It's completely absorbing. Emotional, gripping, offering real insight into the lives of those coping with the horrors of the Holocaust. The dvd is almost as beautiful too.
Date published: 2008-11-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Extremely overrated I thought this book would have been an excellent read, however, once I finished reading it (forcing myself to finish) I found it truly dreadful. The metaphors that Anne included lead nowhere and had no particular relevance to the major occurrences; I found I was forcing myself to finish. If you are having trouble sleeping, I would recommend this novel.
Date published: 2006-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life Through War This entertaining page-turner was a pure joy to experience. Rarely does a novel come along that perfectly incorporates history with fiction to produce a piece of literature that not only grasps the reader's entire attention, but also does not let go. During the early stages of the Second World War Athos Russos discovers the runaway boy Jakob Beer, from Poland, and adopts him into his life on Zakynthos, a small island in Greece. They developed a love and a trust for one another over their years of isolation together in their small home. These experiences create an impenetrable bond between them. After the war, Athos accepts a job in Canada and the twosome moves to Toronto. It is here where Jakob is immersed in change yet again and his ever-evident boyish curiosity begins to flourish once more. Jakob matures and begins to have broader experiences while they begin their new lives in Toronto. Part two of the novel focuses on a professor named Ben who meets an aged Jakob and his sec
Date published: 2003-03-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Has everyone lost their minds? Fugitive Pieces is the most frustrating piece of fiction that I have ever read. As a poet, Anne Michaels is accustomed to writing poetic verse and not prose. In this novel the reader gets an ugly mess of the two. The writing is filled with lofty metaphors that aren't grounded to characters or plot. The excessive use of sentence fragments is incredibly irritating. The characterization in this novel is flat-out terrible. Michaels is unable to write convincing characters. She lets her leading man blurt out completely bogus lines like I love the spring. Jakob is permanently and constantly drowning in emotions that haunt him because of his past. There's is no climax, no humour, and no believability to Jakob's story. The emotion that Michaels portrays is a steady drone of remorse. Halfway through the novel, the narrative shifts to a character who is painfully similar to the first narrator. Ben, like Jakob, is a poet who's consumed by emotions relating to the Holocaust. They both share a p
Date published: 2003-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredibly moving Michaels' poetic writing took me right to the horrors of the Second World War. My own father fled from post war-torn Europe. He died when I was 15, and I feel that there is so much untold that died with him, just as with Jakob in this touching story.
Date published: 2000-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from fresh paint on the page Poetic agility transferred to the pages of a novel. Anne Michaels' mastery of the english language made this reading a delight. If I were blind, this is who I would want by my side to describe a van Gogh, the northern lights or the face of my child.
Date published: 2000-03-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Beautiful prose, but lacking something My book club read this book at my recommendation, based on the awards it had received. It got mixed reaction in my club and I personally didn't really enjoy it. Anne Michael's prose is certainly beautiful and poetic, but the complex words and imagery somehow keep her characters at a distance. No one in this book really felt real; after the initial, powerful Holocost scene, the book just meanders with no strong points to be made or emotional highs or lows. I felt the second half of the book, Ben's story, gave us a more identifiable character to work with than the elusive Jakob and the completely absent Michaela, but it wasn't enough to redeem the novel overall. Read The English Patient instead.
Date published: 2000-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hope... renewed There are many books that recount the unspeakble horrors of the last war. Noteable among these is Hannah Arendt's chronicle of Adolf Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem, subtitled "The Banality of Evil". If in this book Arendt has diagnosed the poison (for evil to triumph, all people need to do is nothing) then Anne Michaels in "Fugitive Pieces" prescribes the antidote,(good must be proven again and again). Here is writing so astonishingly beautiful that as you move through the book you experience what the main character, Jakob Beer, says:"It is absolution simply listening to her."
Date published: 1999-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "Every Moment is Two Moments" "Fugitive Pieces" is a novel that - reflecting the accuracy of its title - uses perfectly shattered fragments of text to create a beautiful and heart-wrenchingly elusive world. It is solid, intellectual proof of literature's ability to take the reader to another place - not as a form of escapism - but for the more important purpose of achieving insight. The lyrical combination of prose and poetry allows the novel to perfectly render itself as a literary representation of the author's phrase "every moment is two moments." It is all too beautiful to be taken at face value; even intrinsically straightforward subjects such as geology or Scott's legendary Antarctic expedition find romantic power in both metaphor and poetic portrayal. Somehow the author manages to subdue - but not to disregard - the depressive aspects of the Holocaust and to sum up the novel's emotional approach to the subject in one haunting phrase: "All grief, anyone's grief... is the weight of a sleeping child." This novel is pure, intense, and insightful; it is a well-crafted work of art that definitely warrants an unending audience.
Date published: 1999-06-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Life Lessons I am a newcomer to Anne Michaels' work. However, reading Fugitive Pieces inspired me to further unearth her creativity and look for her poetry. Michaels writes with a similar style as Michael Ondaatije; both authors' words flow like poetry. Their imagery places you in the worlds of realistic horror and beautiful fantasy, simultaneously. Michaels' poetic flair helps ease the harsh realities of World War II and the Holocaust, in and outside of concentration camps, so that neither the characters nor the readers succumb to the depression of survivor's guilt, but awaken to the beauty of life saved, even preserved in a world of eternal stone. The geological aspects and metaphors reveal a life lesson: if we bury ourselves deep within the earth, we exist only in waiting to be unearthed; but, if we lie just above the surface, someone interested in our composition will pick us up off the ground.
Date published: 1999-05-21

Read from the Book

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 dead 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 above the 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.

Bookclub 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? Does silence—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?Discussion questions provided courtesy of Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved.

From Our Editors

When Jakob Beer is saved from the horrors of a Polish town during the Second World War, his hero is an unlikely one. Athos Roussos is a Greek scientist and humanist who brings Jakob to live with him on a Greek island during the last days of the Occupation. At the end of the war, Athos accepts a teaching post at the University of Toronto and Jakob and Athos start a fresh life. Fugitive Pieces' second part focuses on Ben, a professor who meets the now 60-year-old Jakob and Jakob's incredible wife Michaela. Anne Michaels' lyrical, beautiful novel of two interlinking stories received the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Orange Prize and the Trillium Award.

Editorial Reviews

“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.”–Maclean's “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