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Review: Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels

In 1940, Greek geologist Athos was digging in a war-stricken Polish city when a small boy emerged from the mud; no one realized that he was alive until he started to cry.  Jakob was only seven years old and his entire family had been taken and probably killed by the Nazis.  Athos decides to risk his own life by taking the boy home to Greece, where they settle, hide, starve, but begin to know each other and develop a relationship and education.  We follow Jakob into adulthood, watching him write poetry that reflects their haunted past as well as their uncertain future.

This book may have been slightly too literary for me.  I loved the idea of the story but I’m never all that fond of books told in abstracts.  Perhaps I read it too soon after The English Patient, which I still haven’t found the words to review; both books are similar in their slow exploration of the effects of war on people’s psyche and in their meandering focus on people rather than plot.  I’m not sure I’m always in a mood for such a read.  A week later, however, I find myself pondering this book, wondering about Jakob.

Jakob’s transition from lost and lonely boy to educated, confident, loving man is quite a fascinating one.  We first witness Jakob’s life, then the life of another man who is significantly influenced by him and by the war.  There are multiple threads running through the novel; perhaps the most important, I felt, were the bonds of love.  Jakob loves Athos; he loves his wives; he loves his parents and perhaps most especially, he loves his lost sister Bella, who he manages to carry in his heart throughout his life.  

I was a bit perplexed by the addition of the second character in the final 100 pages of the book.  I wasn’t as interested in him as I was in Jakob.  I can see the parallels between them and I understand the effect of showing the significance Jakob had after his death, but I felt there were unanswered questions and I wanted the answers.  This book would be better read with other people in order to think and discuss more closely its literary significance.  I’m sure there is a great deal here that I am not picking up on my own.  I’m planning to read it again and see what I can find the next time.

Available via Indiebound, Powell’s, Amazon, and Amazon UK.

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10 comments to Review: Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels

  • Unless there is a really good reason to introduce another character that far in, I don’t like. Usually there isn’t a good enough reason to my mind, and I find it distracting. Unfortunately it seems like more books are using the technique with some random character popping in half-way or even worse, three quarters of the way through the book.

    Nicole’s last blog post..This Just In! An Acquaintance with Darkness, by Ann Rinaldi

  • I struggle with books that are too literary. If the meaning’s too subtle, I just don’t get it. I don’t think this book is for me.

    Kathy’s last blog post..Mailbox Monday

  • I struggled with some parts of this book too. Some passages were amazing, but it got a bit confusing in places. I really didn’t understand why the modern character was added at the end either. I’m sure you’ll understand it a lot better after a second reading, but I’m not sure this book is worth the effort.

    Jackie (Farm Lane Books)’s last blog post..Bleeding Heart Square – Andrew Taylor

  • I’ve only found a handful of people who read this book. I loved it! It’s one of my favourite books I’ve read, and I keep meaning to go back to it. There’s a movie out of it to, it was done at a film festival, not a block buster kind of movie, but from what I heard, it sticks to the books.

    One of the main things about the book is that the author is a poet, so the entire story is written very poetically, which a lot of people dislike. But I found it to be a fantastic book.

    Jules’s last blog post..Spring Reading Thing Wrap-Up

  • Okay. I HAVE to go pick this one up! I haven’t heard of it, so thanks for sharing.

    Becky’s last blog post..Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

  • I read this book many years ago and did not like it. I read the whole book and did not enjoy it. I just could not get into any of the characters. Thanks for sharing your post.

  • Tristan

    I just read “Fugitive Pieces” for the first time and thought it was one of the most poetic and profound books I’d ever read about grief, loss and survivor’s guilt. That said, I agree with those who found the introduction of Ben towards the end jarring. I loved the first part of the story, however, and would definitely recommend it. Didn’t find it too literary. It was easy enough to follow.

  • Argh. Nice review, well thought out and clear. I know now to pass this one up. I doubt it will be a good match for me.

    Beth F’s last blog post..Thursday Tea (July 2): A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton

  • I love literary novels, so I think this one would be just my cup of tea. Maybe I can get my book club to choose it, since it seems to be a book that would engender a great discussion. I’ve put it on my wishlist, hopefully I can get around to it soon.

    Zibilee’s last blog post..Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal by Julie Metz – 352 pgs

  • This one sounds really good. I hope it’s okay that I linked you’re review here. :)