Fugitive Pieces book cover, Bookside Table, EM Keeler

Stories, songs, and poems are the best ways for the past to come to the present, and in Fugitive Pieces they are the only gifts that can be given back to the dead. Anne Michael’s work here is a beautiful and often sensual attempt to bear witness to the trauma and tragedy of the Holocaust.

It’s hard to think about the way to write out my thoughts on this book, because it’s really difficult to think about this huge fissure, this cruel and horrifying eruption that happened a lifetime ago. It’s equally hard not to condense my privileged sense of alienation from genocide, from the horror of this history, into a feeling of alienation from this story. Any narrative work of art that takes the large scale trauma of the Holocaust as its subject has a strange effect on me; I worry sometimes that the beauty of film or the written word somehow makes me lessĀ  empathetic by way of the aestheticization of human horror.

Fugitive Pieces is a poetic and dense work, where the earth and atmosphere shape the stories that are told. There are two main sections, and each is structured as a journal. The two men that chronicle their memories and experiences are always carrying a near crippling consciousness of untold stories, of secrets, of buried testimony. And each of these men come to terms with the way that time ripples through them, whispers forgotten names, through giving themselves over to love.

Bella, Alex, Michaela, Naomi, Petra, these women dance across these tormented pages, and they are alternatively tyrannical, obsessive, gentle and yielding, tearful and ecstatic, kind and cruel in ways that are unfathomably accidental. The heat of their love warms the men that write about them, and the way that their bodies and hair and voices fill these pages bubble up in a symphony of compassion and pain like Appalachian Spring.