Thoughts and Reflections
This is a beautifully written novel. This is the first novel by this author, who is a published poet. Typically, poetry isn't my favourite form of writing. This novel, however, has a distinctly poetic style to it, an element which I deeply appreciated.
The plot of the novel is secondary to the themes, merely a medium on which to discuss the themes. The main theme is one of healing, healing from incredible hurt and trauma. The protagonist, Jakob, was a young Jewish boy in World War II, a boy who witnessed the murder of his parents and struggles with the disappearance of his sister. He was taken in my a Greek archaeologist, who took Jakob home and kept him safe throughout the war Eventually they move to Toronto, Canada, where Jakob grows up, attends university, and marries. However, he into his adulthood, he struggles with the loss of his family. The author portrays his struggle and despair through her descriptive writing more so than the plot. The reader watches Jakob struggle with crippling depression and watches his marriage fall apart.
Due to the descriptive style, the book is not a depressing one, despite the content. The description allows the reader to know and feel along with the characters, but doesn't debilitate. The reader also experiences a reemergence of the protagonist and see him find happiness in his life. Whereas previously he was unable to allow himself to experience happiness or unable to understand happiness for his losses, later in his life, he is able to reconcile his history and happiness. In someways, his end is somewhat sappy, he finds happiness in a companion. However, what makes this story different is his previously failed attempts at happiness and companionship. In this story, it is not the companionship, but the companion that helps him reconcile his losses and happiness.
The descriptive writing, as I've already mentioned, is incredible. Emotions are portrayed through the descriptions of moments, people, and places. Sometimes poetic writing or a heavily descriptive style can leave too much ambiguity for the reader to fully understand the context or moment. However, Anne Michaels manages a very descriptive novel without ambiguity or confusion.
The first part of the novel is narrated by Jakob, the protagonist, whereas the last section is narrated by Ben, and admirer of Jakob's work. In my opinion, Ben is not as likable as Jakob. I was not able to empathise with his losses as I was with Jakob's. I understand the connection to Jakob, because Ben's parents were survivors of concentration camps. His story is one as well of healing. Ben's story is one of delayed healing, of sorting through resentment, of hating someone he should be loving. The novel does not offer a clear ending to Ben's story. We never know if he is reconciled. However, the point of his story was learning about his own sense of loss and understanding the his resentment as a result.
All in all, I very much enjoyed this story. It is a sad story, one filled with all kinds of losses. The descriptive writing is wonderful and worth reading if only for it. Not a single word seemed misused or out of place. This book is well written and carefully edited. I look forward to reading the novel one day again and catching some of the references, descriptions, and reasons for certain elements which I missed this first time around. I certainly recommend this book and have added to my list of top recommendations.
About the Author
Anne Michaels was born in Toronto, Canada in 1958. She went on to study at the University of Toronto, where she is currently and adjunct professor in the Department of English. Until the publishing of Fugitive Pieces in 1996, Michaels was mainly a poet. She published her first collection of poetry, The Weight of Oranges, in 1986 and was awarded the Commonwealth Prize. However, her literary fame came from the publishing of Fugitive Pieces, which has been awarded a number of prizes, including the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Books in Canada First Novel Award. In 2009, she published The Winter Vault. Fugitive Pieces was also made into a film in 2007. Anne Michaels currently lives in Toronto.
Things I Loved About This Novel
1. The descriptive writing.
2. The characters Jakob and Athos. Though I cannot imagine Jakob's losses, I felt I was able to relate with him as a character. Athos was a wonderful and enviable mentor, being kind and compassionate, as well as knowledgeable and a great teacher.
3. The journey of the characters through their respective losses to some sense of healing.