The basics: My library catalog had a better summary than I could write: "It is the 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."
My thoughts: Fugitive Pieces is the tale of two reading experiences for me. While I was reading it, I was captivated by the language. It's clear Anne Michaels is a poet: "a place so empty it was not even haunted." (p. 61) I wrote down pages and pages of passages. I would mutter "wow," frequently as I read it. Then, I would do something else and would let days pass without picking it up again. I started this book in December and finally finished it last week because it was due back at the library and I couldn't renew it again.
It's not a novel with a lot of action, which isn't normally a problem for me. I like character-driven novels with beautiful language. The problem for me with this novel is that there's not a lot of character development either. It's rather abstract, and the beautiful writing wasn't enough to convince me. There were passages that are almost examples of metafiction: "The present, like a landscape, is only a small part of a mysterious narrative." (p. 48)
Despite my enjoyment of this novel when read in long passages, the very structure of the novel itself hindered this enjoyment. The action broke almost once a page and sometimes more. It's a novel of seemingly infinite vignettes, which is a lovely metaphor for life and stories, but as a reader, it was hard to stay enchanted. Perhaps those drawn to poetry or short fiction would be less bothered by the constant breaking and shifting.
Favorite passage: "Sometimes the body experiences a revelation because it has abandoned every other possibility." (p. 52)
The verdict: Although I loved the language and poetic writing in this novel, there wasn't enough character development or plot to draw me in. Ultimately, Michaels failed at realizing her own passage; she failed to make the beautiful necessary:
Important lessons: look carefully; record you see. Find a way to make beauty necessary; find a way to make necessity beautiful. (p. 44)Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Length: 294 pages
Publication date: February 25, 1997 (it's in paperback now)
Source: my local public library
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