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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars deeply moving
It is difficult to know where to begin with this book. I have been interested to read the other reviews. It is rare to see such polarised opinions. I guess it is fair to say that if you are looking for a plot-driven yarn with a healthy range of realistic characters then this book is not for you. It is not so much a story as a complex linguistic journey of discovery...
Published on 16 Jan 2009 by Alexis Paladin

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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unsure
It is obvious that Fugitive Pieces is a beatifully written novel, the language is descriptive and flowing and it is dripping with poetry. However, my enjoyment of the novel was lessened somewhat by how I'd heard other people describe it - "Overpowering", "Breathtaking", and some said they could only read it in small bursts it was so intense. This made me realise that I...
Published on 4 Jan 2004 by Catherine


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars deeply moving, 16 Jan 2009
This review is from: Fugitive Pieces (Paperback)
It is difficult to know where to begin with this book. I have been interested to read the other reviews. It is rare to see such polarised opinions. I guess it is fair to say that if you are looking for a plot-driven yarn with a healthy range of realistic characters then this book is not for you. It is not so much a story as a complex linguistic journey of discovery which, by venturing deep within the damaged psyche of two Jewish men manages to expose fundamental truths about all men, all people, all living things, the earth itself. If this sounds pretentious to you then I would advise you not to read the book. Michaels is first and foremost a poet and it shows. Her language is dense with imagery and allegory, to read just one page is to dive into a swamp of words, some of them admittedly, rapidly pass you by but others will linger with you forever. Michaels' understanding of the relationships between men and women and both the world around them and the words they use to interact and define themselves is simply breathtaking. If you take this book for what it is meant to be and allow yourself to be pulled into the sometimes tortured, but always fundamentally human world Michaels skilfully creates, then I can guarantee that whether you be Jew, Gentile or Muslim, Canadian, Greek or Brazilian, you will connect with this book's profound humanity and it's haunting residue will stay with you forever.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love's Perpetual Thrist, 19 Dec 2002
This review is from: Fugitive Pieces (Paperback)
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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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unsure, 4 Jan 2004
By 
Catherine (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Fugitive Pieces (Paperback)
It is obvious that Fugitive Pieces is a beatifully written novel, the language is descriptive and flowing and it is dripping with poetry. However, my enjoyment of the novel was lessened somewhat by how I'd heard other people describe it - "Overpowering", "Breathtaking", and some said they could only read it in small bursts it was so intense. This made me realise that I didn't feel like that at all, that I wasn't overwhelmed or pinned to my seat or anything, it just seemed like a poetic novel that i knew i should be affected by but wasn't.
Despite this, Fugitive Pieces is thought provoking and intelligent, and there were parts at which I did have to stop and read again to take it in properly. So I'm still not sure whether it is a fantastic novel, or if I just don't get it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fugitive Pieces, 4 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Fugitive Pieces (Paperback)
I'm not a particularly avid reader and originally got a copy of this during a stay in the UK. It then sat on a bookshelf, unread, for over a year, before I finally decided to pick it up. It is probably one of the most beautifully written books that I've read. To say that it took me on a journey is an understatement. It made me cry, smile, contemplate, and stimulated my visual imagination to the limit. I have to admit that, at the beginning, it didn't make much sense, but I persevered and all the pieces came together. I loved it so much, I bought another 3 copies as gifts to friends,in the hope that they enjoy it as much as I did. I actually had to limit myself each day in order to make it last longer, otherwise I would've devoured it in a single sitting!! Recommended, though of course it won't be everyone's "tazza di te". My husband read an italian translation and didn't seem to rate it much,,,might have been down to the translation or just a matter of taste.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Poetic excellence alone is insufficient, 28 Oct 2014
By 
Dr R (Norwich, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Fugitive Pieces (Paperback)
For two-thirds of this novel I was entranced. Anne Michaels, b. 1956, is a Canadian writer and poet and this novel, published in the UK in 1997, won numerous prizes, including the Orange Prize for Fiction.

The book is steeped in metaphors [although there were times when I felt almost bludgeoned by them , as in ‘a poem is as neural as love; the rut of rhythm that veers the mind'], and its descriptions of wartime atrocities, life on a Greek island, Canada and in mainland Greece are intensely poetic.

The first part of the novel, written in short terrifying sections, describes the killing of the parents of an unnamed Jewish boy in wartime Poland and the capture of his sister, his flight to a nearby river and his hiding in the mud until discovered by Antanasios Roussos [Athos], a polymath who is excavating the site of the ‘drowned city’ of Biskupin. Athos takes the boy, Jakob Beer, to his isolated home on a Greek island, Zakynthos, where remains hidden from the Germans until they are defeated.

During this period, Athos draws Jakob into the world of ‘geologists and explorers, cartographers’, science and language as he attempts to loosen the traumatic effects that his wartime experiences have had. This is only partly successful. In particular, Jakob feels inexorably linked to his older sister, Bella, a pianist. After the war, the two go to live in Athens and later to Toronto. Jakob becomes a translator and poet, and after Athos’ unexpected death he determines to publish the latter’s study of the Nazis’ falsification of archaeology to demonstrate Aryan supremacy.

The second half of the book describes Jakob’s adult life which continues to be affected by memories from the past, in particular, of Bella and by the guilt of his survival. He marries and returns to Athens but his memories are too intense for his wife to compete with. Key aspects of his youth and middle-age life are glossed over, his writing and studies and his marriage to Alex, a fiery and independent woman who urges him to move on with her rather than remain yolked to Bella. There is no indication of why these are less important that what we are told about his life. Alex’s love of puns and palindromes, ’in her mouth English was dangerous and alive, edgy and hot’, does not sit well with her inward-looking husband.

The final third of the book, less successful, is narrated by a young meteorologist, Ben, whose parents survived the holocaust, and who admires Jacob's poetry and his triumph over extreme adversity. Ben becomes obsessed with Jakob’s story and, following the latter’s death in a traffic accident, travels to Athens to find his autobiographical writings.

Whereas Michaels’ poetic meditation impresses, her ability to develop a narrative is less successful. She adds to her difficulty by having to describe events that the first of her chosen narrators, Jakob, cannot remember or has not experienced – the events of the German occupations of Poland and Greece.

At one point, Jakob thinks of Houdini ‘astonishing audiences by stuffing himself into boxes and trunks, then escaping, unaware that a few years later other Jews would be crawling into bins and boxes and cupboards [as Jakob himself did] to escape.’

Athos and Jakob are each strongly developed enough to retain the interest of the reader and to support the depth and breadth of her extensive research. Ben, unfortunately, is not and, moreover, his voice did not seem to be that dissimilar from Jakob’s.

The young Jakob searches through his fragmentary childhood memory, something he continues to do in adulthood. Ben searches for the physical fragments of Jakob’s story aided by Petra, a girl he has briefly met, who first sabotages his search and then, indirectly, reveals its objective. Sadly, Petra is little more than two-dimensional.

Memories of loss permeate this novel as the characters try to deal with their loss and its eternal, agonising pain as best they can. At one point Jakob says ‘We were Russian dolls. I inside Athos, Bella inside me.’ But Jakob himself may be read as being ‘inside’ Ben who, at the end of the novel, has the information to fully reveal his life story.

Ultimately I was disappointed by the author’s very considerable poetic ability overshadowing a limited narration.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You are so wrong!, 25 May 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Fugitive Pieces (Paperback)
Fugitive pieces is one of the best books I have ever read. It is beautiful not just because of the poetic language but because it addresses so many fundamental human issues that affect all of us. Jacob's journey through life covers many aspects that will affect all of us at some time like loss, living with the uncertainty of knowing what happened to people who died, the struggle to cope with a normal existence after trauma, finding happiness late in life, I could go on. Michaels tackles bigger issues too like what happened to the children of survivors, how our parents' often had a life that we knew nothing about and how we often have to forgive ourselves for having a poor relationship with our parents. Essentially it is about the fragile web that binds us all and makes us human. It is not a 'sequential' novel as such. It moves along at its own pace and almost appears to be the thought of the narrator. it does not have a 'plot' (most good novels don't, you might notice) and it is not essentially a book ABOUT the holocaust. I agree, if you want to read a book about the Holocaust, buy Primo Levi. If you want to read a beautiful, provocative book about humanity and the fragility of life, buy this one. I wish I could have written it!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful piece of writing, 27 Jan 2009
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This review is from: Fugitive Pieces (Paperback)
This novel is one of the best books I have ever read. The fact that the author is a poet shines through on every page. I found myself re-reading pages over and over again, just to marvel at the beauty of the wordsw. The subject is gripping - a Jewish boy saved from the Ghetto during the second world war and brought up by a guardian who must be one of the most sensitively-drawn characters in fiction. But it is the beauty of the language, the way which Anne Michael portrays the story, which keeps you reading.

The second half of the book is a bit of a jump from the first half, which initially I found difficult, but then it all makes sense.....

I really can't rate this novel highly enough, I would recommend it to everyone.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing poem, 8 Sep 2009
By 
Amir Szold "Amiki" (Tel Aviv, Israel) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Fugitive Pieces (Paperback)
This is clearly one of the best books written in the recent years. The author, a poet, writes in a quite, sophisticated voice, the story of two men torn from their world into the chaos of the second world war, and later the civil war in Greece. A true masterpiece, especially if one wants to understand better the psychology of the next generations of these nations.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fugitive pieces capturing a deeply poetic humanity, 20 Aug 2009
By 
Andy Miller (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Fugitive Pieces (Paperback)
This book drips with praise, all over the back cover and four inside pages too. John Berger calls it the most important book he has read in forty years and the Guardian Fiction prize and the Orange are thrown in for extra measure. Anne Michaels is an award winning poet and Fugitive Pieces, published in 1996, is her first novel.

From the very first page, the author's poetic credentials are apparent and, after hurrying through a brief chapter or so, I wondered whether I needed to slow down in order to appreciate more fully the imagery and allusion within the elegantly crafted sentences. Was this to be a novel of scope and grandeur or a set of crafted paragraphs, beautiful but primarily technical exercises? As my reader's ear became more attuned to the style and content of the book, I soon realised that this novel would achieve both aims and moreover provide a sumptuous, emotionally engaging and riveting reading experience. Like one of the reviewers in the frontispiece, I too struggled and failed to resist reading paragraphs aloud, probably more to re-experience and anchor the language for myself than for my companion's entertainment or education.

This is a novel of character, place, atmosphere and ideas built around the Holocaust and its aftermath and with a focus on two main characters. Jacob Beer escapes from the Nazis in Poland at seven years of age with the help of a Greek archaeologist, Athos Roussos - `scientist, scholar, middling master of languages'. The major part of the novel then follows Jacob's life from the war years spent in hiding at Athos' home on the island of Zakynthos, through their relocation to Toronto after the war and on into Jacob's adult life. A second shorter part tells the story of Ben, a young Toronto-based academic who is studying Beer and is the son of concentration camp survivors. His parents' lives in the aftermath of the war contrast with that of Jacob's, helping to bring home the variations in the effects of grief, loss and guilt pervading forever the lives of the survivors.

Place is so beautifully evoked. I wanted to board a plane for Zakynthos that very day. Toronto too became very familiar, as I wandered the city with Jacob and Athos on their geological and archaeological rambles. Ideas abound, fascinating anecdotes and observations on subjects as diverse as history, culture, meteorology, science, polar exploration and much, much more.

There is no convenient `plot resolution' in this book and indeed it is constructed from an impressive set of `fugitive pieces', paragraphs and short sections, jumping in time and space but never losing the reader. This spectacular style communicates so successfully, at least to me, the nature of memory traumatised by horror and utter degradation.

For the first half to two thirds of this book, I was wondering while I read whether this might not be the best book I had ever read. By the end, and after a little reflection, I don't think it is at the absolute pinnacle of my personal list but it is certainly extremely high. The switch in narrator and some of the new plot directions in that latter section detracted from the overall just a little for me. But this is still, in my opinion, an exceptional, moving and brilliantly crafted piece of work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 7 Jun 2011
This review is from: Fugitive Pieces (Paperback)
This seems to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it books. It has generated a great deal of praise, some of which seemed quite excessive to me, and no doubt added to my disappointment, but there are also many who found it pretentious, aimless and boring. The further I got into the novel the more I realized I would be in the latter group.

The story seems to be about lots of things and nothing much - surviving the holocaust, a boy's love for the man who rescued him, loss, identity, family, and much more. But it doesn't really focus on anything. There's no real characterization and there's no plot whatsoever. It wanders poetically around, sometimes losing itself in a dead end of flowery, meaningless prose.
I also found the narrative confusing. Somewhere towards the end I realized the narrator had become a different person, but it happened without any indication and I couldn't even tell who the new narrator was supposed to be. In truth I hardly cared, as by then I'd lost interest in the novel.

The only reason I give this more than one star is that there are actually a few thoughtful ideas and some good writing buried away in here.
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Fugitive Pieces
Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels (Paperback - 26 Sep 1997)
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