Thursday, May 20, 2010
Fugitive Pieces - when language surrenders
I have waited too long to read this book. It is extraordinary. Michaels writes as Jakob Beer, the protagonist, describes above - right at the edge of language where it tips over into something else altogether. Something visceral, neural, call it what you will.
Michaels is a Canadian poet, and here in her 1997 novel she layers 'pieces' of writing in this book as a poem layers lines or stanzas, to build something that is deeper than an ordinary narrative. At times, the language feels too intense and carefully wrought for a story - a bit like watching someone through a highly ornate iron gate - but for most of the book I feel like I do when snorkelling in deep water, or as I imagine flying to be - deeply inside another medium and somehow invisible, immaterial. Michaels writes of grief and love with such wisdom and beauty, it hurts sometimes.
Fugitive Pieces is the story of Jakob Beer who, aged 7, is rescued from the muddy ruins of a buried village in Nazi-occupied Poland. His family dead, he is adopted by a Greek geologist - Athos - and taken to Greece and then Canada. Jakob is persecuted by the violent deaths of his family and of the millions of other Jews who died in World War II. The way he grapples with what happened and tries to make a life for himself is both provocative and intensely moving. Unforgettable.
Here's my review of Anne Michaels' 2009 novel, The Winter Vault.