Fugitive Pieces

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This article is about the novel. For the film based on the novel, see Fugitive Pieces (film).
First edition cover

Fugitive Pieces is a novel by Canadian poet Anne Michaels. First published in 1996 [1] (1997 in the UK),[2] it was awarded the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Trillium Book Award, Orange Prize for Fiction, Guardian Fiction Prize and the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize.

It is written in two sections, called Book I and Book II. The first follows the story of Jakob Beer, who as a Jewish child in Poland narrowly escapes being killed by the Nazis. He is rescued by a Greek geologist, Athos Roussos, who adopts him and takes him to live on Zakynthos in Greece. After the war the pair emigrate to Toronto. The novel follows Jakob's life as he marries and goes through life. The second book is written from the perspective of an admirer of Jakob's poetry, Ben.

The novel is written in a poetic style with persistent layers of metaphor, often called forth via Athos Roussos. Roussos' paleobotanical research involves peeling back physical layers of archaeological strata as well as temporal layers of change and decay. The novel explores themes of trauma, grief, loss, and memory, as well as discovery both personal and scientific.

The novel has been made into a feature film produced by Robert Lantos through his Toronto-based Serendipity Point Films Inc. It opened on the opening day of the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. It is directed by Jeremy Podeswa based on his original screenplay adaptation of the Michaels novel. It stars Stephen Dillane as Jakob Beer and Rade Šerbedžija as Athos.

Plot summary[edit]

In the first part of the book, Jakob Beer is a 7 year old child of a Jewish family living in Poland. His house is stormed by Nazis; he escapes the fate of his parents and his sister, Bella, by hiding behind the wallpaper in a cabinet. He hides in the forest, burying himself up to the neck in soil. After some time, he runs into an archaeologist, Athos Roussos, working on Biskupin. Athos secretly takes him to Zakynthos in Greece. Athos is also a geologist, and is fascinated with ancient wood and stones. Jakob learns Greek and English, but finds that learning new languages erases his memory of the past. After the war, Athos and Jakob move to Toronto, where after several years Jakob meets Alexandra in a music library. Alex is a fast-paced, outspokenly philosophical master of wordplay. Jakob and Alex fall in love and marry, but the relationship fails because Alex expects Jakob to change too fast and abandon his past. Jakob dwells constantly on his memories of Bella, especially her piano-playing, and they end up divorcing. Jakob meets and marries Michaela, a much younger woman but one who seems to understand him, and with Michaela's help he is able to let go of Bella. Together they move to Greece into the former home of several generations of the Roussos family.

The second part of the book is told from the perspective of Ben, a Canadian professor of Jewish descent who was born in Canada to survivors of the Holocaust. In 1954 the family home in Weston, Ontario is destroyed by Hurricane Hazel. Ben becomes an expert on the history of weather, and marries a girl named Naomi. He is a big admirer of Jakob's poetry and respects the way he deals with the Holocaust, when Ben himself has trouble coping with the horrors his parents must have endured. At the end of the novel, Ben is sent to retrieve Jakob's journals from his home in Greece, where Ben spends hours swimming in Jakob's past.


  • Eugene Benson and William Toye, eds. The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1997: 753-754.
  • W. H. New, ed. Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002: 740.


Preceded by
Helen Dunmore - A Spell of Winter
Orange Prize for Fiction
Succeeded by
Carol Shields - Larry's Party