With me now in my middle age and she, in her twilight years, looking back to the lives of her parents made us reflect more on what would be ours when we finally come to our last years, or months or days on earth. There was one photograph with both of their father and mother in it. Of my grandmother's last days before she died.
My mother and aunt took turns in describing how they took care of her. I could sense the pain of loss especially when they said that she died so young because she had to give birth to 15 infants only 5 or 4 survived to adulthood not because there was no money for caesarian operation but because there was no hospital then. Our hometown is in a small island in the Pacific and this was in the 20's and 30's. How they also lost their father whose eyes were ravaged by diabetes. Their stories are too vivid that you could feel their pain.
The pain of losing one's parents is, I think, a pain that will never go away. Anne Michaels, the author of Fugitive Pieces is a poet. Thus, this book is peppered with phrases that are poetic, rythmic and layered with metaphors. It is a bit difficult to read, especially in the first 50 or so pages , as I am used to straight narrative prose but when you finally adjusted to her style, you can't put the book down. It is like reading a fragmented prose in different multiple layers and at least two voices, that of Jacob in the first part and of Ben in the later part.
I was struck by his idea of making a hole so deep that he could escape in the other side of the world. This came into my mind too when I was at that age and playing inside our backyard in our island hometown. I will not tell you about the "hole" and why the idea came into my mind.
About Fugitive Pieces
Jacob has a sibling, Bella who plays the piano. The memory of Bella and her parents stays with Jacob all his life even if Athos , his rescuer, brings him to Greece and later to Canada to live and forget his past. It affects his married life until the end of his life. In the second half of the book, with Ben as the narrator, the same theme permeates his recollections of his parents who he lost in WWII.
Ben is an admirer of Jacob's poems and the way the latter has handled his life as a survivor. This memory of losing their loved ones, with pain expressed in exquisite lyrical prose, makes this book a very memorable read. The pain of loss that will never go away. The beauty of prose that will always be remembered. View all 18 comments. Jan 31, Leah rated it it was ok Shelves: orange-prizewinner. Finally, I have finished this one. I loved the cover and a quick flick through excited me because the writing was poetic and lyrical and the prologue about lost manuscripts from people who wrote about the holocaust was tantalising.
The story is about a young Jewish boy, Jacob Beer who, while hiding, witnesses the slaughter of his parents and the abduction of his sister, presumably for the death camps, by the Nazi police in Poland. He survives living in the marshland outside the town until h Finally, I have finished this one. They move then to Toronto where, many years later Athos dies and Jacob becomes an academic and later a writer, but is tortured by his war experiences and survivors guilt.
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His marriage fails and he eventually finds some solace with Michaela. The last part of the novel follows Ben, a man brought up in Toronto but whose parents were holocaust survivors. He meets Jacob at a party and finds some of his own peace in Jacob's writing. Some of this novel is beautifully descriptive, moving and inventive. Every now and then I would read a sentence that blew me away There were also some shocking descriptions of cruelties that came without warning to draw you back to the relevance of the times They buried themselves in strange graves, any space that would fit their bodies, absorbing more room than was alloted them in the world.
However I wasn't far into it before I realised it wasn't holding my interest consistently. It was clear that meticulous research had taken place prior to writing the book, but its knowledgeable sections about geology, philosophy or other academia, while impressive, were quite a slog and my interest began to wane.
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There were whole sections of the book where my attention wandered and I was not bothered to recount the lines to re enlighten myself. I felt that these sections compromised any plot or character development so that I did not care much about them. I was feeling very little at all. There is no doubt that Anne Michaels is a talented writer but it almost seemed that she flexed her literary muscles too much at times so that this seemed to be more of a poem than a novel.
I also had a problem when the narrative voice took Ben's persona in the last section, mainly because there is no warning of this and the voice still sounds exactly like Jacob. I was quite a way through before I realised we were now witnessing someone elses story.
Quite a lot of the last section is also quite hard to decipher, and I found some of the plot lines are confusing and almost deliberately contradictory or vague and unexplained. At this point though I just wanted to get it finished and was beyond trying to clear up any anomolies. Its a shame because I really wanted to enjoy it and when its words lit up, I felt inspired by it. But I don't think these interludes were enough for me.
There are sections of this book that I don't even remember reading and that is not good for me. I realise that there are millions who count this book among there favourites, if not the best book ever. It has also won quite a few awards. There is a lot for discussion in this book, both subject matter and style. Some moments of magic but also disappointing so mixed feelings with this one.
View all 3 comments. Oct 01, Gemma rated it really liked it Shelves: beautifully-written , historical-fiction , world-war-ii.
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At other times the unrelenting insistency on poetry felt a bit strained as if there was too much idealising going on. Jakob manages to escape when his parents and sister are arrested by the Nazis.
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After months of hiding, often digging himself into holes in the landscape, he is rescued by a Greek archaeologist called Athos. The book is narrated in the form of two journals and is a kind of archaeology of memory. There are probably two hundred brilliant pages and another hundred of unnecessary upholstery. View all 8 comments. Feb 07, Jeanette "Astute Crabbist" rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: People who appreciate extraordinary prose. Shelves: all-fiction , five-star-fiction , to-be-read-again , extraordinary-prose , europe-and-british-isles , canada , world-war-two-fiction.
Literary ambrosia. This gets at least six stars from me. I stubbornly avoided this book for a long time because the promotional blurb just didn't make it sound appealing to me. I finally gave it a try so I could stop wondering why it won half a dozen awards and shows up on "must read" lists everywhere I look.
I'm so glad I did! The blurb doesn't even begin to tell you about the book as you'll experience it while reading. If you're the left-brain dominant sort who needs everything spelled out in Literary ambrosia.
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If you're the left-brain dominant sort who needs everything spelled out in flat little rows and columns, you may not appreciate this one. However, if you enjoy encountering profound little pockets of prose to be read slowly and savored and then re-read, you'll love this book the way I do.
The author is a poet, and it shows here in her first novel. Many of the best passages were sort of like a combination of Lawrence Thornton and Per Petterson, beautifully descriptive and ethereal. And yet Anne Michaels has her own distinctive style, which I don't mean to diminish by comparing her with others. For the first pages, the narrator is Jakob Beer. He tells the story of his life, being rescued in Poland by a geologist named Athos and secretly taken to Greece, then emigrating with Athos to Canada after the war.
This is interspersed with his contemplations on life, loss, beauty, love, hatred, forgiveness, and remembrance. The final pages are narrated by Ben, a young man who briefly met Jakob Beer before his death, and now tells his own story as if he were speaking to Jakob. I found it quite jarring to have a sudden change of narrator without being told anything about Ben, so if you're reading this review, I'm saving you from that disorientation.
He absorbed their fears and their silences and their losses without ever being made to understand that he was not inadequate as their child. It was their history, too painful for them to share with him, that shaped his life.
Fugitive Pieces, review
I strongly suggest that everyone at least give this a try. The first few pages are somewhat fragmented and hard to follow, but it smooths out and finds its footing by about page 20 or so. May 10, aPriL does feral sometimes rated it really liked it Shelves: literary , unbearably-sad. It made me very sad.