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Fugitive Pieces

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  10,827 Ratings  ·  863 Reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 11th 1996 by McClelland & Stewart
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99th out of 279 books — 70 voters

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Community Reviews

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it seems to be something of a goodreads sin to give this book any fewer than four stars. and were i rating it solely on the beauty of its language, it would be an easy five-star book. but as a novel, it missed the mark for me somewhat, so it is really just a high-three for me.

i know - blasphemer!

the poetry-as-novel thing can be a truly wonderful beast, or it can leave the reader wanting more - more story, more impact, more cohesion. reading this book made me long to re-read Justine, which is an
"To survive was to escape fate. But if you escape your fate, whose life do you then step into?"

Jakob Beer is a Holocaust survivor. At the age of seven, he is rescued while on the run – a fugitive of sorts – from the death grip of the Nazis. His mother, father and beloved sister Bella are not so fortunate. Jakob will spend a lifetime trying to piece together the memories of his past and those he loved. The writing is simply astonishing. The prose often reads like poetry and the effect is quite po
Jul 27, 2016 Elyse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The story itself is straight forward and easy to follow....( not 'all' characters are developed fully), but the overall plot - and the depth of the plot is clear....beautiful in its ways....and powerful. The lyrical crafting is luminous.,

Jakob Beer's parents and sister, Bella, were killed in his home --victims of the Nazi reign in Europe. Jakob is now an age 7. He flees into the marshes and forests in Poland and meets a Greek Geologist, Athos Roussos who takes pity on him -and smugg
Jakob Beer understands love. He also understands loss. He understands love as only a man who has lost and found it once again can. He finds it in the faces of those who come after the tragedy and in the memories of those who have never come out of it. We all have our way to communicate with those long gone. Only, while we change, they stay the same. We wish to keep those memories alive for as long as we can. But time is merciless. When we have lost someone we truly love, we cannot escape from th ...more
Violet wells
Jul 17, 2016 Violet wells rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel often reminded me of what a brilliant accomplishment Virginia Woolf’s The Waves is. There are parallels. The piecing together of shards, of fugitive pieces, the deployment of one narrative to unravel another, in an attempt to complete biography. It’s not, of course, as good as The Waves – few novels are!

The first part of the novel is narrated by Jakob Beer. He is seven when his parents are murdered by Nazi soldiers. His beloved sister, Bella is abducted and will become the ghost that
K.D. Absolutely
Feb 06, 2011 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Shelves: 1001-core, saddest
Together, my 75-y/o mother and her 82-y/o sister, spent a whole month (last month) vacation here in the Philippines mostly in my house. For few days, they went to our province, the town they were born. When they came back, my mother showed me a bunch of old photographs. Included in those were the pictures of her parents. My grandparents.

It was amazing how they could still tell the stories behind each of the photograph as if they were only taken a few years ago. When we came to those of her own
May 04, 2014 Jaidee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: five-stars-books
5 stars...One of the wisest and most beautiful books I have ever read.....A book about longing, loss, grief, beauty and love....I would reread whole chapters, sentences and phrases and then actually either ache with wistfulness or weep with bittersweet joy. I felt myself transforming as I read this for the better and I think it will continue to have effects on me for many months and years ahead. A rare jewel that I will take out from time to time from its box and put it against the night sky and ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Feb 10, 2009 Jeanette "Astute Crabbist" rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who appreciate extraordinary prose
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
Apr 21, 2012 Leah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 he is r
aPriL does feral sometimes
'Fugitive Pieces' is a beautiful elegy in narrative prose. It made me very sad. The book maintains a level of poetic creativity and exquisite writing about Holocaust survivors who are trying to live as normal people do and not to corrosively mourn forever after the devastation of the Holocaust and of surviving it.

Short version: can't be done. But making an effort mitigates the PTSD, even if it doesn't put the pieces all back where they were.

Holocaust survivor and poet Jakob Beer narrates the fi
Dec 19, 2007 Dorian rated it did not like it
Smug, self-serving twaddle.

Yes, Michaels has a way with metaphor. But metaphor also gets away from her. This book is relentless in its "poetic manner"--if I want that sort of thing I'll read Ondaatje (and frankly I'm amazed his lawyers didn't sue for plagiarism...). Michaels, primarily, I'm told, a poet, has no sense of narrative pacing (witness the late intrusion of another story) and no sense of narrative voice (witness the fact that this second voice sounds exactly like the first--and neither
May 29, 2011 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Julie by: Jeanette, Charisse
“I did not witness the most important events of my life. My deepest story must be told by a blind man, a prisoner of sound. From behind a wall, from underground. From the corner of a small house on a small island that juts like a bone from the skin of sea.”

Early in her brooding, shadowy, aching novel, Anne Michaels sets out the central conflict of her principal character, Jakob Beer. Jakob’s family is slaughtered one winter night in 1940; the seven-year-old boy hides in a hollow in the wall, the
Oct 14, 2010 Maia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: obsessive lit prizes followers
There are few words to describe how annoying I found this book. I just don't seem to be either an Orange Prize reader or a good target audience for novels penned by authors who are, as Michaels is described, 'primarily poets.' I love poetry--it was actually my first love, and novels came later. I've also loved quite a few great novels written by first-class poets. However, this isn't a rule of thumb and is actually very often simply an exception. Poetry and narrative writing are just not the sam ...more
Dec 08, 2014 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are so many books on the holocaust that it has almost dulled the magnitude of the atrocity. But this novel, written by Canadian poet, Ann Michaels, is phenomenal. Her lyrical sentence structure will capture you right away and the story line is profound. A young Jewish boy is the only one to escape a raid by the Gestapo on the family because he has hidden in a secret place in the pantry. After hiding in the woods (this is Poland) for many days, he finds and is found by a Greek archaeologist ...more
I want to put this book in a bowl, pour syrup over it, and eat it with a spoon.

It made me cry. Actually, it made me ugly-cry. What more is there to say?
"Some stones are so heavy only silence helps you carry them"

I promise promise promise that I'm not going to fall into the habit of simply posting quotations and extracts in my reviews. However, the writing of Anne Michaels in this, her debut (and award-winning) novel is so stunningly poetic, so all-consuming, so remarkable, that I can't help but echo some voices here:

"At night, a few lights marked port and starboard of these gargantuan industrial forms, and I filled them with loneliness. I liste
Aug 28, 2010 Sherry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've never had a complaint like this about a book I've read: the language was too beautiful. I would come across a line like: "I ran until the first light wrung the last greyness out of the stars, dripping dirty light between the trees" and stop and marvel over it, and in doing so, I would lose track of what was going on. Each sentence is crafted like that. Each sentence is like a part of a poem, which makes sense, because Anne Michaels is a poet. But sometimes I just wanted the story to go on. ...more
Jan 05, 2013 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2013
I'm torn with this book. On the one hand the prose is so dense and rich, poetic and downright stunning. On the other hand the story left me a little hollow. Reading this I had the perpetual feeling that I was trying to see through a foggy window, barely seeing. And yet, there was so much feeling.

Characters appear as if in a dream and dissolve away. Frustrating? Yes. But isn't that how life is? People leave. People die. And we feel the loss forever, as the characters in this book do.

I'm not sur
Elizabeth (Alaska)
This book is so many things: bits of philosopy, history, biography. In the very brief __ (prologue?) is written A man's experience of war never ends with the war. I have observed this recently in my reviews of some novels about WWI, and the soldiers who fought. In large part, rather than bits, this novel is the psychological effects of WWII and Jews. There are two parts. The first part is told by Jakob Beer, who escaped as a child, then was rescued, hidden, protected. The second part is told by ...more
Jan 22, 2015 Petra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian-author
Beautiful and touching.
I wasn't expecting the short, fragmented sentence structure of this book but it works. The fragments (pieces?) tell snapshots of the confused and painful upbringings of Jakob, a child who survived the killing of his family in the Holocaust, and Ben, a child born of two Holocaust survivors.
Each perspective brings guilt, fear and pain into the lives of Jakob & Ben and threatens to overpower them in their adult lives.
A beautiful book about love and its powers.


After watching the film of the same name, I wondered why I had not been similarly moved by the novel. Now I remember why I was underwhelmed the first time. The deeply moving, achingly intense first part of the book is irredeemably overshadowed by the clunky one that follows.

The first part is told by Jakob Beer, 7 years old at the start; he is in hiding when he sees his parents killed by the Nazis and his older sister Bella disappear. After fleeing he is rescued by Athos Roussos an archaeologist
I need to read this one again. It's been a good 17 years or so. I remember feeling very attached to it at the time. My gf back then, who insisted I read the book, actually named my pup after the main character Jakob Bier. I would say we named my pup after Jakob Bier, but I'm pretty sure she was the brains behind the operation. Only we spelled his name Jacob and pronounced it Yakob, which confused a lot of people. I dreamed about him last night, as I often do (the pup, not Jakob Bier, but perhaps ...more
Jun 08, 2011 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a reflection on love and loss in the context of the holocaust and those who survived. Jakob is rescued when seven years old (his family has been arrested by the Nazis)by Athos, a Greek archealogist; who takes him home and brings him up. You are told about Jakob's death at the very beginning of the book, aged 60 with his young wife. The story begins in Poland, then to Greece, Canada and back to Greece where Jakob meets the love of his life.
Anne Michaels is a poet and the language and desc
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
One day you wake up and find all the pieces of your chess set gone. They have fled and implanted themselves in a board of another game. It can't be, you protest, it makes no sense. Chess pieces belong to the chess board. Their meaning is dictated by its board of sixty-four squares. Outside of it they are but an aberration. These rooks, knights, bishops, pawns, kings and queens had always been with this sixty-four square board for at least two thousand years.

The wayward chess pieces, however, be
May 27, 2014 Penny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
This is a very different kind of novel. It is almost at times a stream of consciousness where the character's thoughts and memories simply flow out. This makes for some exceptional writing but not a particularly easy or gripping read.

We start off with our main character, Jakob Beer, as a young Jewish boy. Jakob's town is attacked and he is rescued by a Greek man who takes him back to a Greek island. Athos raised Jakob and protects him through the war. The relationship between Jakob and Athos is
Sep 13, 2014 Teresa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Lo único que se puede hacer por los muertos es cantarles. El himno, el miroloy, el kaddish. En los guetos, quando si moría un niño, la madre le cantaba una nana. Porque no tenía otra cosa que ofrecer de su ser, de su cuerpo. Se la inventaba, una canción de consuelo, mencionando todos los juguetes preferidos del niño. Y la gente las oía y se las pasaban los unos a los otros y, al pasar de las generaciones, esa cancioncilla es lo único que queda que pueda decirnos algo de ese niño..."
(página 255)
Apr 13, 2015 Paola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I know, “mesmerising” is abused in far too many movie trailers, but it is the word best describes the effect this book had on me. When I say the book, I rather meant its main part - there are two of them, with two different narrators, and it is Jakob Beer’s that had me hooked. The final part felt somewhat contrived, less fluent and natural, both in “plot” (if we can talk of plot) and in the prose itself. But the first part alone is magnificent, wonderful read.
Jan 23, 2011 Ames rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, canadian
I tried really hard to like this book, because my sister ranks it among her favourites and she gave a copy to me for Christmas. Undoubtedly, the book contains some beautiful poetry, but there's so much of it that the plot gets bogged down to the point of nonexistence.

I can't for the life of me tell you what happened in this book, aside from the following plot details: Jakob gets rescued from the Nazis by a benevolent Greek archaeologist, then moves to Canada with him, where he proceeds to have t
Jan 31, 2009 Julia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is such an unusual book that I hardly know how to rate it. It is a disturbing theme but beautifully written. It is like reading a poem about a horrible event. It is about a young Jewish boy hidden away whose family are all killed as the Nazis pass through his village in Poland. He wanders into a place where a Greek geologist is studying a submerged city hundreds of years old. The man recognizes the plight of the child and carries him hidden into Greece. There they live together with the chi ...more
Aug 29, 2008 Andrew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who really like poetry, images, metaphors, etc
Recommended to Andrew by: family member
I had very high expectations for “Fugitive Pieces”, probably higher than I should have had, after it was highly recommended to me by my mother recently. I should have known better, since our tastes in books are not always the same. While I thought “Fugitive Pieces” was a nice book, I certainly did not find it to be exceptional.

“Fugitive Pieces” tries too hard to be beautiful. Trying to make her prose feel like poetry, Michaels' story is overly lyrical and tedious. Hundreds of sentences without
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From Canadian Poetry Online:

Anne Michaels was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1958. She is the author of one novel Fugitive Pieces, which explores the possibility of love and faith alter the Holocaust, with language marked by power, elegance, and integrity. Ms. Michaels, who has also composed musical scores for the theater, has said "when you put a tremendous amount of love into your work, as in any r
More about Anne Michaels...

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“Love makes you see a place differently, just as you hold differently an object that belongs to someone you love. If you know one landscape well, you will look at all other landscapes differently. And if you learn to love one place, sometimes you can also learn to love another.” 149 likes
“There's a moment when love makes you believe in death for the first time. You recognize the one whose loss, even contemplated, you'll carry forever, like a sleeping child. All grief, anyone's the weight of a sleeping child.” 84 likes
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