On its 25th anniversary arrives a new edition of Anne Michaels's #1 internationally bestselling and celebrated novel--its message and importance remaining as relevant today as ever. Winner of many awards including the Orange Prize and the Guardian Fiction Award, Fugitive Pieces is not only still one of the most beloved and most critically acclaimed books of our time, but also a novel of rare vision that is at once lyrical, sensual, and profound.
In 1940 a boy bursts from the mud of a war-torn Polish city, where he has buried himself to hide from the soldiers who murdered his family. His name is Jakob Beer. He is only seven years old. And although by all rights he should have shared the fate of the other Jews in his village, he has not only survived but been rescued by a Greek geologist, who does not recognize the boy as human until he begins to cry. With this electrifying image, Anne Michaels ushers us into her rapturously acclaimed novel of loss, memory, history, and redemption.
As Michaels follows Jakob across two continents, she lets us witness his transformation from a half-wild casualty of the Holocaust to an artist who extracts meaning from its abyss. Filled with mysterious symmetries and rendered in heart-stopping prose, Fugitive Pieces is a triumphant work, a book that should not so much be read as it should be surrendered to.
About the author
Anne Michaels is a writer based in Toronto. Her novel, Fugitive Pieces, won the Trillium Prize and the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award in Canada, the Orange Prize and the Guardian Fiction Award in the UK, and a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction in the US. Her two poetry collections, The Weight of Oranges and Miner's Pond, have received high acclaim.
- Winner, Orange Prize for Fiction
- Short-listed, Scotiabank Giller Prize
- Winner, Toronto Book Award
- Winner, Guardian First Book Award
- Nominated, Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award
- Winner, Trillium Book Award
Excerpt: Fugitive Pieces (by (author) Anne Michaels)
My sister had long outgrown the hiding place. Bella was fifteen and even I admitted she was beautiful, with heavy brows and magnificent hair like black syrup, thick and luxurious, a muscle down her back. "A work of art," our mother said, brushing it for her while Bella sat in a chair. I was still small enough to vanish behind the wallpaper in the cupboard, cramming my head sideways between choking plaster and beams, eyelashes scraping.
Since those minutes inside the wall, I've imagined the dead lose every sense except hearing. The burst door. Wood ripped from hinges, cracking like ice under the shouts. Noises never heard before, torn from my father's mouth. Then silence. My mother had been sewing a button on my shirt. She kept her buttons in a chipped saucer. I heard the rim of the saucer in circles on the floor. I heard the spray of buttons, little white teeth.
Blackness filled me, spread from the back of my head into my eyes as if my brain has been punctured. Spread from stomach to legs. I gulped and gulped, swallowing it whole. The wall filled with smoke. I struggled out and stared while the air caught fire.
I wanted to go to my parents, to touch them. But I couldn't, unless I stepped on their blood.
The soul leaves the body instantly, as if it can hardly wait to be free: my mother's face was not her own. My father was twisted with falling. Two shapes in the flesh-heap, his hands.
I ran and fell, ran and fell. Then the river: so cold it felt sharp.
The river was the same blackness that was inside me; only the thin membrane of my skin kept me floating.
From the other bank, I watched darkness turn to purple-orange light above the town; the color of flesh transforming to spirit. They flew up. The dead passed above me, weird haloes and arcs smothering the stars. The trees bent under their weight. I'd never been alone in the night forest, the wild bare branches were frozen snakes. The ground tilted and I didn't hold on. I strained to join them, to rise with them, to peel from the ground like paper ungluing at its edges. I know why we bury our dead and mark the place with stone, with the heaviest, most permanent thing we can think of: because the dead are everywhere but the ground. I stayed where I was. Clammy with cold, stuck to the ground. I begged: If I can't rise, then let me sink, sink into the forest floor like a seal into wax.
Then—as if she'd pushed the hair from my forehead, as if I'd heard her voice-I knew suddenly my mother was inside me. Moving along sinews, under my skin the way she used to move through the house at night, putting things away, putting things in order. She was stopping to say goodbye and was caught, in such pain, wanting to rise, wanting to stay. It was my responsibility to release her, a sin to keep her from ascending. I tore at my clothes, my hair. She was gone. My own fast breath around my head.
I ran from the sound of the river into the woods, dark as the inside of a box. I ran until the first light wrung the last grayness out of the stars, dripping dirty light between the trees. I knew what to do. I took a stick and dug. I planted myself like a turnip and hid my face with leaves.
My head between the branches, bristling points like my father's beard. I was safely buried, my wet clothes cold as armor. Panting like a dog. My arms tight up against my chest, my neck stretched back, tears crawling like insects into my ears. I had no choice but to look straight up. The dawn sky was milky with new spirits. Soon I couldn't avoid the absurdity of daylight even by closing my eyes. It poked down, pinned me like the broken branches, like my father's beard.
Then I felt the worst shame of my life: I was pierced with hunger. And suddenly I realized, my throat aching without sounds — Bella.
“It stands alone, a stunning testament to the shaping bonds of memory and of history.…”
–London Free Press
“Extraordinary.…Michaels has dug deep and come up with treasure.”
“This is a novel to lose yourself in; let the language pour over you, depositing its richness like waves lapping sand onto a beach.”
–The Times (U.K.)
“Fugitive Pieces again strongly reminds us why people write novels, why people should read them.…Here is the real thing, literature.”
–Richard Bachmann, A Different Drummer Books
“Deserves to become a classic.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
“The most important book I have read for 40 years.”
–John Berger, The Observer (U.K.)
“Word by blessed word, it is a gorgeously written book aflame with the sub-zero cold of history and the passions of emotional comprehension.”
“Exquisitely fabricated, the words so precise, that one stands before it as if it were the Bayeux Tapestry, afraid to touch a single thread lest the entire chronicle unravel.”
–Globe and Mail
“From time to time a novel appears that shocks with its beauty, its integrity, its humanity.…A stunning achievement.”
–Rosemary Sullivan, author of The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out
“Each page is alert with the grace and energy of a rare moral intelligence, expressing both love and shame for humanity.…Like all great fiction, it seeks to fulfil the mind's yearning. There is not an idle word in its telling.”
“The book is beautifully written…ike turbulent water disturbing what lies in the depths.”
–Books in Canada
“Ms. Michaels underscores the continuity of human experience, suggesting that just as we can inherit the pain and guilt of earlier generations, so too can we inherit understanding and beauty and grace.…”
–New York Times Book Review
“An extraordinary piece of work. Founded on great ambition and carried through fearlessly.”
–The Guardian (U.K.)
“It is one of the most important novels to come out of this country.”
–Peter Oliva, Calgary Herald
“She has the ability to take a reader's breath away with an image or a turn of phrase.”
–The Gazette (Montreal)
“Reading this profound, graceful book is an unforgettable emotional and esthetic experience.”