Friends, you may have noticed that I have been absent from posting recently and left my dear Sonika to shoulder the burden. This is because two weeks ago today I began full-time employment again, and while that has been helpful to my bank account, it’s really been detrimental to my reading time. Matter of fact, I think I’d be so bold as to say that my job is getting in the way of my reading.
So as a way to jump start my reading again, I turned to one of my favorite books, Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. I first started this book in an aisle at Barnes & Noble right after it came out, and was quite upset my father ended up buying it as a graduation present for one of his star students instead of me.
For the next three years, I could not remember anything of the book, not even the title, except that the little boy describes his sister as having hair like syrup. Shortly after I went to college, I discovered a copy of this book on a new friend’s bookshelf. It is finds like this that make me believe a book will choose you nearly as much as you choose the book.
Fugitive Pieces is great in no small part because Anne Michaels is a poet, a fact readily apparent from the first line: ‘Time is a blind guide.’ Her handle of language is both tender and loaded, and the book is ripe with symbolism as well as literary allusions (though not in the annoying the-whale-is-white kind of way).
The book opens with an eight-year-old Jakob Beer detailing the destruction of his Jewish family by the Nazis and his flight, ending in the arms of a man named Athos, who smuggles Jakob back to his home country of Greece. The story follows Jakob through his life as he struggles with what it means to have survived his parents; to not know what happened to his sister Bella; and to exist in relation to people who do not live with his daily fears and questions, such as his first wife Alex.
The second part of the book takes place after Jakob’s death, as Ben (who met Jakob at a dinner party and shares mutual friends) helps to assemble Jakob’s affairs. Ben is struggling to understand his parents, who survived the camps, and how the war continues to affect his life even though it has ended. In essence, Jakob is a guide for Ben on how to live when the past that is very much in the present.
I chose to reread a new copy of this book to separate myself from past reads which have left my first copy with notes on every page. I wanted to experience it anew, and see if I could focus on the book outside of its profound effect on me. Throughout the read, snippets of Anne Michaels’ poetry kept running through my mind: ‘a tangle of pajamas anxious to learn the stars’; ‘the dead leave us starving with mouthfuls of love’; ‘Sometimes I’m certain those who are happy/ know one thing more than us… or one thing less‘; and I remembered why I loved this book so, and was filled with a desire to give it to everyone I know.
The last line of the book is, “I see that I must give what I most need,” and I realized this time through yet another way this relates to me. And so I am sending my father a copy of Fugitive Pieces.