Fugitive Pieces

Anne Michaels

The shadow past is shaped by everything that never happened. Invisible, it melts the present like rain through karst. A biography of longing. It steers us like magnetism, a spirit torque. This is how one becomes undone by a smell, a word, a place, the photo of a mountain of shoes. By love that closes its mouth before calling a name.
         I did not witness the most important events of my life. My deepest story must be told by a blind man, a prisoner of sound. From behind a wall, from underground. From the corner of a small house on a small island that juts like a bone from the skin of the sea.

While I was reading this book, multiple people told me this was one of their favorite books, one they have recommended repeatedly to others. It’s a lyrical novel in which the plot is somewhat secondary to the inner transformations of Jakob, who fled from certain death during the Holocaust in Poland, burying himself in mud during the day to hide, along with his protector Athos, a Greek geologist who rescues him and brings him to the island Zakynthos. The metaphors of geology and archaeological layers are recurring motifs, exploring the emotional excavation of trauma and grief.

The book is mostly written from Jakob’s perspective, but then abruptly jumps to a new voice (though with much the same timbre as Jakob’s). At first this seemed like a mistake, but eventually it made sense why the story had to be finished by another. Though a story of loss is inevitably sad, Fugitive Pieces is written so stunningly, it was impossible to be mired in it. But also it frames a lot of those unanswerable questions about what it means to be a refugee and what challenges there are for those who flee such tragedies. “To survive was to escape fate. But if you escape your fate, whose life do you then step into?”