FUGITIVE PIECES by Anne Michaels


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 A moving tale of survival becomes a grave and stately hymn to the revivifying qualities of language and learning in this impressive debut by a Canadian poet. The main narrator, Jakob Beer, who tells his story at age 60 in 1992, was a Polish survivor of the Holocaust who, after losing his entire family in 1939, was rescued by Antanasios Roussos, a middle-aged scholar and polymath, who took Jakob to safety and raised him on the Greek island of Zakynthos. Jakob's narrative is a rich chronicle of intellectual hungers generously satisfied, as ``Athos's tales of geologists and explorers, cartographers and navigators'' stimulate his young disciple's active imagination--an imagination also possessed by vivid memories of Jakob's dead parents and sister Bella, who appear to him as both vocal and visible presences. The pair travel to Athens, where Jakob's own insistent memories jostle against stories of that city's wartime sufferings, and thence to Toronto, where ``Athos'' has been invited to teach, and where he dies--leaving Jakob to complete his mentor's masterwork, a study of how the Nazis distorted archaeology to alter the past and ``prove'' Aryan supremacy. Jakob's life thereafter is devoted to his own writing (he is a gifted poet), to a search for love he never seems quite able to fulfill, and, centrally, to his progression from experiencing ``the power of language to destroy to omit to obliterate'' to discovering in ``poetry, the power of language to restore.'' Then, in an only partially successful shift, the novel's last third observes Jakob's later life and his legacy from the viewpoint of a younger friend and admirer, who is himself the child of Holocaust survivors and whose sensitivity to what Jakob's life signifies is aided by his own realization that ``Every moment is two moments'' (that is, the past is always present in the present). A stunning work, quite beautifully written, and a lovely homage to the imperiled yet indomitable culture and individuals it celebrates. (First printing of 35,000)

Pub Date: March 7th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45439-X
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1997


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