Friday, November 8, 2013

Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

This is one of the few books I'd heard of before I started this blog, although I didn't know what it was about. However, it's won a lot of awards and garnered much critical acclaim, so I had expectations going in.

It's a lovely novel, it really is. People complain about poets making the transition to novels, and the language in this book is pure poetry, but I didn't find it distracting or overdone; the story was easily discernable and the tangents were, for the most part, interesting, and certainly lovely to read. Michaels is a true artist with words.

The story is from the point of view of Jakob, a boy who escapes Poland during the Holocaust with the help of a Greek man named Athos. It follows the pair to occupied Greece, and finally to freedom (in a sense) in Toronto. The book isn't really about the story as much as it is about its themes, and ideas. There is a lot about love, and death, and how survivors of great trauma find ways to move in the world and live on. It is one of the more effective uses of the Holocaust as a springboard for these themes that I've seen; the atrocities committed by the Nazis are explicitly detailed, in stark contrast to descriptions of beautiful Greek villages or enduring love.

The last third of the novel switches protagonists; it is fro the point of view of a man named Ben, a child of Holocaust suvivors, who is addressing his narrative to Jakob after the death of the latter. This section I could have done without, honestly; it is surprising to me that a female writer would create such indulgent male fantasy. I didn't like Ben and I wasn't done with Jakob's story; it was like another book intruded on the one I was reading.

Toronto doesn't play a huge part in the novel, although a couple neighbourhoods are name-checked. The value of the narrative is definitely its universal human themes, with plot and characters a secondary consideration.

This is a lovely book, worth reading. However, it might be because I'm a bit exhausted with Holocaust novels, but I don't think it will stay with me as much as it should.

Three CN Towers out of five.

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