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Fugitive Pieces [Paperback]

Anne Michaels
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 3 2009
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.

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Product Description

From Amazon

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 Hardcover 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 Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars something to think about Dec 1 2003
By alexa
Format:Audio CD
I am a teenager and I understand this book so I'm sure the people that call it boring or "flawed" didn't really think about it very hard. I have heard many accusations that this book was flawed or sloppy in the plotline. First of all, how can a book, especially one so poetic and deep, be flawed? It's like saying Picasso made a mistake in one of his paintings. If you see the plotline as being broken then you missed the point of the book. It takes you beyond the story, or at least it is supposed to in my opinion. The poetry of the book is a window to the deep meanings of the book. For example, the relationship between death and memory. The characters and storyline are only there to display the meaning. If you read this book, it is for the meaning, not the story, though the story is very moving. The best thing about Fugitive Pieces is that it is NOT TYPICAL. It's creative, emotional, and original; the ingredients for a true classic.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the weight and lightness of being Sept. 2 2001
When poets try to write novels, they sometimes fail, since the ability of poets to find deep meaning in words and phrases cannot always be sustained for greater length of novels. When they succeed, the result can be utterly engrossing. Michaels writes of a possible situation--a Greek poet who rescues Jakob, a Jewish boy, hiding in Poland during World War II after his parents and older sister were taken by the Nazis--and a possible place, the Greek poet's island home where the boy grows up and the poet grows old. Jakob himself becomes a poet, and moves to Canada. The book traces a second story as well, one of Jakob's readers, who meets Jakob and eventually travels to the island.
Woven into the story are reflections on memory and knowledge: and many concrete references. Perhaps that is the great link between poetry and the novel, that both can turn to concrete things--lemons on a Greek island, a river in Canada in flood, objects that are real in themselves, that can be metaphors, and that reveal the fragile precious quality of human existence and human connection. And this concreteness, like the immediacy of Jakob and the poet and the other characters, has remained with me since I've read this book, making me in some small but significant way more tender and appreciative, more alive.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fugitive Pieces Jan. 20 2000
This is a complex and poetic novel, about a young boy, who witnesses the murder of his Jewish family by Nazi's during the holocaust. He is taken to Zakynthos by a Greek geologist. The boy, Jakob, then tells his story through diary entries. The pair migrate to Toronto, and his life story is told. The story is then continued past Jakob's death by Ben, a man so inspired by the philosophy of Jakob, that he journeys to Greece to recount the footsteps of his idol. The author, Anne Michaels is a poet - this is her first attempt at a novel - and consequently the book is full of poetic similes and metaphors. The style of the book is also quite spiritual, as the main character is so haunted by his past that he imagines his dead sister with him, as he remembers her when they were together. This past keeps interrupting his present, as though Jakob is reluctant to let go of it, and live his own life. This book is very calm, even the horrific murder of Jakob's parents and sister is written about in a dream like fashion. It also has a gentle, almost anti climatic ending. This is one of my criticisms of the book, as it seems to have little in the way of a conclusion. The style means that Fugitive Pieces is quite a difficult book to read, and you have to concentrate on the book's story to fully understand and appreciate it. However the story does come through with perseverance, and the novel comes together at the end.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Life Through War March 20 2003
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 emerged 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 second wife, Michaela, and begins to see in Jakob many of the qualities that Jakob had seen in Athos. Anne Michaels has composed a great piece of literature that beautifully integrates love, curiosity, danger, loss, grief and change into a very complete, entertaining, and award-winning novel.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Page to page a beautiful novel Jan. 20 2001
This Toronto author was previously a poet and that is most certainly evident in her beautiful and lyrical writing style. This book is most definitely not overratted - it should be read over a few times in order for the reader to catch all the beauty of the book. The book seems incredibly slow paced at times, but is definitely not a book which I was sorry to have read. Do not read this book for plot, rather read this book for beauty.
And in reference to a previous review: this story does NOT take place in a highly idealized society, it is exactly as Toronto was (and still is in many ways) in that post-war time period. A very free and frindly place and is highly realistic in terms of plot and setting.
But I do agree as many others have stated, that at times, Fugitive Pieces is a slow moving novel. But this novel is difficult to put down because it is like a piece of poetry where you don't want to allow yourself to stop halfway through. It follows the life of a young boy named Jakob traumatized by the loss of his family and is taken in by a man named Athos. Athos has a close relationship with Jakob and what is different about this story is that it is not the typical "mentor" relationship between the two. Jakob learns from Athos, but this is never really through direct dialogue but more through observation of his life and actions.
Jakob has an inability to let go and an inability to live in the present and remember the past; his journey is one that perhaps the reader can relate to in terms of how difficult is is to move on after tradgedy. The second part of the novel is beautiful as well, in this section it follows the life of Ben, a man who finds Jakob's life absolutely fascinating.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational Read
Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels, is a very poetic piece. Although written as a novel, it was like reading a very long poem in which the words were beautifully crafted together... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Sam Couture Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Strange, Irresistable Read
Most of this book likely went over my head, but the writing is so achingly beautiful it doesn't even matter. Read more
Published 13 months ago by R. A. Kerr
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Product, Great Condition, Great service
I definitely had a great experience purchasing this item from Amazon.ca.
The product arrived on time (despite the fact that it came from overseas), and it was in stellar... Read more
Published on Feb. 7 2011 by rmj375
5.0 out of 5 stars The Most Amazing Book I've Ever Read
Anne Michael's beautifully written Fugitive Pieces is in a class all by itself. I drank it in, like an elixir. Read more
Published on Feb. 1 2009 by Clyo Beck
4.0 out of 5 stars Just a Little Too Poetic for This Reader's Taste
The book opens with Jakob Beer as a seven-year-old child hiding in the bog in order to escape the Nazis. His family did not escape and were killed. Read more
Published on June 12 2008 by Teddy
5.0 out of 5 stars Novels Like this are Rare
The imagery in this book is in a league of its own. I'm not the least bit surprised to see that the author is a poet as well. Read more
Published on Nov. 22 2007 by Richard de Almeida
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerfully Moving Poetry in Prose
This book will be a classic. Anne Michaels has written the best book I have ever read! Read it!
It is amazing.
The diction, literary devises, etc. are wonderful. Read more
Published on Nov. 21 2002 by J Bruner
1.0 out of 5 stars A 13 year-old's point of view
The beginning of this book was greatly written, but throughout the rest of the book I was lost. It kept switching from different perspectives and to different times. Read more
Published on March 18 2002 by Cindy Willson
5.0 out of 5 stars Altering
This is one of the most powerful books I've ever read. The power of her poetry, her words, is astounding. It was like waking from a dream...
Published on Feb. 10 2002 by Marc J. Fine
2.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful prose, lousy novel
Fugitive Pieces is filled with stunningly written prose that makes you stop and ponder. Although I appreciate the prose, the book lacks any type of plot, and the characters are so... Read more
Published on Jan. 8 2002
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