It is a story of World War II as remembered and imagined by one of its survivors: a poet named Jakob Beer, traumatically orphaned as a young child and smuggled out of Poland, first to a Greek island (where he will return as an adult), and later to Toronto. It is the story of how, over his lifetime, Jakob learns the power of language—to destroy, to omit, to obliterate, but also to restore and to conjure, witness and tell—as he comes to understand and experience what was lost to him and of what is possible for him to regain.
Profoundly moving, brilliantly written—as sensual and lyric as it is emotionally resonant—Fugitive Pieces delves into the most difficult workings of the human heart and mind: the grief and healing of remembrance. It is a first novel of astonishing achievement.
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.