Fugitive Pieces

by Anne Michaels

Hardcover, 1997

Call number




Alfred A. Knopf (1997), Edition: 1st U.S. ed, 294 pages


A "New York Times" Notable Book of the Year Winner of the Lannan Literary Fiction Award Winner of the Guardian Fiction Award In 1940 a boy bursts from the mud of a war-torn Polish city, where he has buried himself to hide from the soldiers who murdered his family. His name is Jakob Beer. He is only seven years old. And although by all rights he should have shared the fate of the other Jews in his village, he has not only survived but been rescued by a Greek geologist, who does not recognize the boy as human until he begins to cry. With this electrifying image, Anne Michaels ushers us into her rapturously acclaimed novel of loss, memory, history, and redemption. As Michaels follows Jakob across two continents, she lets us witness his transformation from a half-wild casualty of the Holocaust to an artist who extracts meaning from its abyss. Filled with mysterious symmetries and rendered in heart-stopping prose, "Fugitive Pieces" is a triumphant work, a book that should not so much be read as it should be surrendered to. "From the Trade Paperback edition.""… (more)

Media reviews

Mit ihrem Debütroman "Fluchtstücke" ist ihr, abgesehen von kleinen Schwächen, der Balanceakt zwischen Nachfühlen und Einfühlen in das Schicksal der Opfer, geglückt.

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
Anne Michaels is a poet first and foremost. She has published several volumes of poetry and anyone reading her debut novel, Fugitive Pieces, will realize that within the first few pages. Lovely, sublime, poetic prose covers each and every page and draws you in to her heartbreaking story.

In 1940,
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seven year old Jakob Beer emerges from the rubble of a war-torn city in Poland covered in dirt. He’s buried himself each day, and traveled the dark, deep forest each night since the rest of his Jewish family was murdered when German soldiers burst into their home:

“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.” (Page 7)

Fortunately for Jakob, when he emerges from the dirt, a geologist named Athos Ruossos sees him, at first not recognizing him as human. Athos takes Jakob under his wing and takes him home to his native Greece where Athos works in a university, The two spend their lives traveling between Greece and Toronto. We follow their lives, as they come to terms with loneliness, loss and sorrow, each in his own way.

Two thirds of the way through the book, we hear the voice of Ben, an admirer of the adult Jakob Beer’s poetry. He tells the story of growing up with and dealing with his parents’ difficulty in confronting their years in the Nazi concentration camps:

“When my parents were liberated, four years before I was born, they found that the ordinary world outside the camp had been eradicated. There was no more simple meal, no thing was less than extraordinary: a fork, a mattress, a clean shirt, a book. Not to mention such things that can make one weep: an orange, meat and vegetables, hot water. There was no ordinariness to return to, no refuge from the blinding potency of things, an apple screaming its sweet juice. Every thing belonged to, had been retrieved from, impossibility---both the inorganic and the organic---shoes and socks, their own flesh. It was all as one. And this gratitude included the inexpressible.” (Page 205)

This is a book to be savored for the beauty of its language and the sadness of its story. It’s a gentle story that you can’t rush through, or you will not be cognizant of the breadth of its wisdom and magnificence. I found myself rereading passages over and over to wring from them the entirety of their effect as well as the splendor of the language. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
This is the story of a boy who survived the Holocaust and was raised by his Greek geologist rescuer, first on a small Greek island, then in Canada. The focus is not so much on trauma as on how it changes one's emotional life. Jakob Beer is haunted by his parents' murder, by not knowing what became
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of his beloved sister, and by months spent in hiding. As a result, he finds it nearly impossible to love; his son feels his father takes more joy in a stone than his own child.

I'm somewhat less impressed by this book than were those who recommended it. I found the multitude of Greek words the author inserted--without definition--irritating, as if she was excluding me from fully understanding the novel. Ditto for a lot of geological jargon. Several readers mentioned that Michaels was first a poet and that the language here is therefore "poetic," but I found that at times the "poetic" bordered on flowery and/or incomprehensible. So much energy was being put into finding the perfect image or phrase that the story itself sometimes suffered. What she does convey well is a sense of loss and distrust, the lingering effects of trauma that can even be passed down to the next generation.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
I'll get right to the point: I was disappointed with Fugitive Pieces. Most of the book is the story of Jakob, who is orphaned during the holocaust, and taken in by a Greek scholar named Athos. After the war they move to Canada, and Jakob grows up to become a poet. Then, about 2/3 of the way through
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the book, the narrative shifts to Ben, a young professor whose life briefly intersects with Jakob's.

I had high expectations for this Orange Prize winner written by a well-known poet. The language was, indeed, lovely. Jakob's story in particular was well told and poignant in parts. But that wasn't enough for me. By and large, I failed to identify with the characters, and didn't care much about the outcome of their lives and relationships.
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LibraryThing member edwinbcn
Upon finishing, I cannot say what the book is about, or who the main characters are. It even is not clear whether the "I" of the first-person narrative is a man or a woman. There is no discernable plot, at least not a plot that moves foreward. There are reminicences, evocations, aforisms,
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observations, but very little direction. Th book most seems a stream-of-concious poetic flow of free thoughts and associations. However, the language, while beautiful, is often meaningless.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
I have never been so bewitched and confused by a novel as I was reading Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. Michaels poetically told the story of Jakob Beer, a poet himself, who survived the Holocaust after being rescued by a Greek geologist. The first part of Fugitive Pieces depicted Jakob’s life
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as a young man, living in Greece and Canada. The second half of the book was the narrative of Ben, an admirer of Jakob’s poetry, whose personal life was spiraling out of control.

Jakob and Ben share many parallels – both were affected by the Holocaust, survivors’ guilt and a strangling inability to show their love. For me, Jakob’s story was more fascinating. His nightmarish grip on dealing with his sister’s death was haunting. His love for Athos, his surrogate father, and his second wife, Michaela, showed hope. And his recollections of World War II were heart-breaking. All in all, his tale was more humanizing.

To find these story lines, though, the reader must wade through Michaels’ prose. To say it was beautifully written would be an understatement. However, there were times when I read a paragraph and scratched my head, wondering why it was part of the book. The meandering prose was distracting only because I could not fit it into the larger storyline. Perhaps Fugitive Pieces is a book best read twice.

With that said, I can’t say I regret reading Fugitive Pieces, but it’s definitely not a book for everyone. I usually recommend a book based on other titles or genres, but I can’t for Fugitive Pieces. It stands alone as a beautiful but tangled book about love, loss and the power of the human spirit.
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LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
Much of of what I just read was unsatisfying. From the Greek places, foods and objects with which I was not familiar to the story that jumped from Jakob to Ben (Who was he, and why was he there?!), I was left dangling.

This book read like a dream about the Holocaust, but a dream that was just a bit
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beyond my understanding. In lyrical language that, at times, shut me out of the story completely, I kept thinking that I was missing something. Where was this story going, and what did it want to say? Something profound about the Holocaust? I have not yet clearly figured that out.

What interested me at first, but then sadly later vanished, were allusions to the Jews of Greece. That, in itself, was a good starting place for me, being Jewish myself and having visited many places in Greece. However, what this book was trying to say was simply too vague, the ideas twisted up in its indecipherably poetic prose.

What started out as beautiful was the tender relationship between Jakob, a Holocaust war orphan, and his adoptive Greek guardian, Athos. When the story abruptly broke from that vein, the bottom fell out of my enjoyment of this book. At that point, it felt as if someone had suddenly thrust a totally unrelated book into my hands, and I never thereafter felt any further engagement with this story.

I will agree that this book had some noteworthy sayings, a few thoughtful enough that I was inspired to copy them down. That, however, was not enough to make this story one I would recommend to others.
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LibraryThing member rkelland
Everybody raves about what a great book this is. I just did not get it. It was beautifully written, so beautiful lyrical that it would have made a better poem than a novel. I just felt that the author was trying to emulate Ondatje, and, in my opinion, it just did not work.
LibraryThing member dconfer
The images and language of this book reflect the author's poetic background, and the aimlessness of the plot also belies that background.
LibraryThing member ukaunz
My Bookcrossing review from March 15, 2006:The language and imagery were beautiful and I found the first third of the book very intersting. However it took some effort to finish it and it became almost tedious at the end.
LibraryThing member 1morechapter
Of course it’s every peasant whose forgiveness must be sought. But the rabbi’s point is even more tyrannical: nothing erases the immoral act. Not forgiveness. Not confession.

And even if an act could be forgiven, no one could bear the responsibility of forgiveness on behalf of the dead. No act
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of violence is ever resolved. When the one who can forgive can no longer speak, there is only silence.

Fugitive Pieces is a must read for those interested in Jewish fiction or the history of World War II. The book is told in two parts. In the first we have Jakob Beer, rescued as a child from the forces of WWII by a Greek scholar. He struggles mightily with the memories of his parents and sister. They haunt him throughout his life, overshadowing even the good. In the second, we have Ben, the son of two Holocaust survivors. He is much influenced by Jakob’s poetry, which helps him understand his parents’ deep emotional pain, and, in turn, his own. In this regard, I found the second section a bit reminiscent of Maus. In both parts, there is always the question of whether or not the survivors really and truly survived or if they are hopelessly caught in their pasts.

I have a difficult time reading anything about the Holocaust, even if it deals primarily about the aftermath of the survivors. But, I feel it is extremely important for me to do so. I highly recommend this book if you have a similar interest in this topic.

1996, 294 pp.
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LibraryThing member mirrani
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member pamplemousse
Superb. Anne Michaels is a poet, and it shows -- every page is beautiful, the words flow like music. My only quibble is with the last section of the book, which -- for me -- didn't belong, seemed unnecessary, like a fourth movement.
LibraryThing member Mols06
I enjoyed the poetic imagery and the creative use of geological and historical imagery in characterization. However, for some reason, I found myself hoping at the end of each chapter that the author wouldn't suddenly switch her focus to a new character - which does happen in the last third of the
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novel, to the book's detriment. Its strentgh lies in its characters and in its and poetic language; the weakness is the ending and incorporation of Ben and Naomi with the superior characters that preceed them.
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LibraryThing member devilish2
Gorgeous, gorgeous writing, as you'd expect from a poet. The novel doesn't quite all hang together as a great story, but the journey is so worth it.
LibraryThing member Mouldywarp
I am really frustrated by the lack of superlatives for this book. It hit me with amazing force when I read it - I would give it more than 5 stars! All I can say is 'read it'!!!!
LibraryThing member GomezGarciaGonzalez
Stunningly poetic and moving.
LibraryThing member Hebephrene
For over a year excerpts from this book kept appearing whenever great writing was being discussed and it is a remarkable book. Michaels is a poet and she goes at the Holocaust with the verve and figurative density of a poet. The beginning is very powerful. A boy, Jakob Beer, whose only escaped the
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Nazi's by hiding in the wall, while his parents were shot, is adopted by a Greek geologist. He grows up to be a poet but half of his inner world has been stolen and searches for his disappeared sister, Bella. The metaphors and similes are rich, the subject powerful but it remains to be seen whether a poet's figurative imagery can hold up over the course of a book. By the middle it began to wear thin, in part due to Michael's tic which is a fondness for aphorism that closes you down when it should open the analogy up. The final third, purportedly the story of the search for Beer's journals , was written in a style so close to the third person narrative style that dominated the book, that you didn't feel as if you were in the hands of a separate character. She also had some difficulty bringing the couples alive, but in the larger scheme of things I'm quibbling. She is taking risks here and pushing the narrative form in a way that was mesmerizing and extraordinarily beautiful despite how deeply sad the story is. There is a symbiosis between the foundling Beers and his adopted Greek father that tells us the story of two men who share the same deep melancholy.
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LibraryThing member rocjoe
Really enjoyed this book. The prose brought depth and reality to this "survivors tale" and in a way that you just don't see in most modern books. A quality work that I'm looking forward to re-reading.
LibraryThing member wendyrey
A Jewish child escapes, by chance, from the holocaust and is adopted by a Greek archaeologist, moves to Canada, marries twice, becomes a noted poet and translator, goes back to Greece. He tells his story and reflects on his life and escape. He has massive survivor's guilt especially about his older
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sister. He is killed in a car crash and the story is taken over by an admirer. Clearly and sparsely written with some very evocative sections particularly at the beginning and later on when, after the death of his adoptive father, he discovers that his father has been actively searching for the lost sister.
A story of loss and renewal, although I found the the grief and guilt a bit much at times.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
This is the story of a young boy rescued from WW2 Poland by an archaeologist, brought to live in Greece and then in Canada. It is obvious that the author is a poet because of the beautiful language used. This is the kind of book where the language itself, as much as the plot, moves the reader to
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insight and understanding.
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LibraryThing member kmstock
I didn't enjoy this as much as I'd hoped. The first third or so was great, and I couldn't put it down, but from there it started to meander and seemed a bit aimless. The middle was still emotionally powerful, but the last third or so I could have done without.
LibraryThing member PickledOnion42
I found Fugitive Pieces to be enigmatic in the extreme: it is wonderfully poetic, almost transcendentally beautiful, and is unarguably a work of exquisite literary craftsmanship; yet there is something missing, the identity of which remains frustratingly elusive. Whether this defect lies with the
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book or with the reader I can't decide, so I'll keep this review short and summarise my thoughts by saying that I am not entirely sure what I have just read, but whatever it was I enjoyed it immensely. That's the best I can do.
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LibraryThing member helynrob
"But sometimes the world disrobes, slips its dress off a shoulder, stops time for a beat. If we look up at that moment, it�Ûªs 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
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clattering of spoons"
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LibraryThing member amerynth
Ann Michaels' novel "Fugitive Pieces" is really just beautifully written -- she has a poet's ear for language, which really made this book enjoyable. As a bonus, she spends a bit of time of subjects that have thoroughly interested me -- Tolland man... the Scott expedition to the South Pole... these
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are little details that figure in the book and made it even better for me.

The story focuses on Jakob, a Jewish boy who grew up in Poland and was rescued from a dire fate in the Holocaust by a Greek archaeologist. The story is really about those left behind and how it's impossible to really escape the horrible losses past experiences inflicted.

My understanding is this was Michaels' debut novel. I would certainly read more by her considering this work was pretty stunning.
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LibraryThing member ashergabbay
A friend recommended "Fujitive Pieces" by Anne Michaels long ago, and I finally got round to reading it.

This is the story of a Jewish boy, Jakob Beer, who is rescued from the ruins of his native Polish town after hiding from the Nazis who murdered his entire family. His rescuer is the unlikely
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Athos, a Greek geologist who happened to have been in the area. The relationship that develops between the boy and the man as they return to Greece and try to build a new life together, is the background of this novel. Haunted by visions of his murdered family, Jakob leans on Athos to find a new meaning. Athos teaches him to love language and scholarship, thus building Jakob into a man.

Michaels is a poet and you can tell that by reading this book. The prose is poetic, and that is not a compliment. Although some passages are beautiful to read, as a whole the poetic style is somewhat overbearing. I found it to be too distracting and sometimes a little "forced". It is as if Michaels wants to impress the reader with her literary gift, even if the style does not match the story. I found it difficult to finish this book.
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