A Michaels. Bloomsbury, 1998, £6.99, pp 294. ISBN 0 7475 3496 9
“Athos, how big is the actual heart?” asks the young Jewish boy, Jakob Beer, in the novel Fugitive Pieces (page 113). The reply is: “Imagine the size and heaviness of a handful of earth” (page 113). Athos is an archaeologist and this perhaps is an archaeologist’s answer. A doctor might reply that, providing it is healthy, it is the size of a human fist. For us it is an amazingly powerful and resilient organ that drives the blood around the body some 70 or so times a minute for the whole of a human life. Poets and people in general though may see it as a symbol of love and the human spirit and for dealers in human anatomy it is as well to remember this.
Anne Michaels is a poet. It is said that it took her 10 years to write Fugitive Pieces, her first novel, and that it was revised numerous times. The result is a book so stuffed with beautiful language, intense imagery, and difficult questions that it takes your breath away. It also carries on haunting you long after you put it down. Perhaps it should, because this is a book about the holocaust, about unimaginable suffering and loss. The question that haunts me …