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Creative Writing

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Literature

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Travel

Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels.

Three years ago, I participated in a ‘blind date with a book’ and came home with Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. As soon as I poured over the back cover, I knew that it was going to be something I would love.

The book follows a young Jewish child attempting to escape Nazi-occupied Poland and eventually having to come to terms with his grief when rescued. The story is interwoven with metaphor and memory, trauma and poetry. The language is haunting, insightful, devastatingly beautiful, but more importantly, the book demonstrates the indestructibility of the human mind and spirit. I have reread it countless times and wanted to share some of my favourite lines with you.

‘Then – as if she'd pushed the hair from my forehead, as if I'd heard her voice – I knew suddenly my mother was inside me. Moving along sinews, under my skin the way she used to move through the house at night, putting things away, putting things in order.

I'll tell you instead that war can turn even an ordinary man into a poet.


I watched darkness turn to purple-orange light above the town; the colour of flesh transforming to spirit.


In Birkenau, a woman carried the faces of her husband and daughter, torn from a photograph, under her tongue so their images wouldn't be taken from her. If only everything could fit under the tongue. 


When I can't stand the silence any longer, I slip out of my wet skin, into sound.


I wanted to go to my parents, to touch them. But I couldn't, unless I stepped on their blood.


‘Write to save yourself,’ Athos said, ‘and someday you’ll write because you’ve been saved.’


I longed to cleanse my mouth of memory.


Athos said "Jakob, try to be buried in ground that will remember you."


I watched the Easter procession and placed this parallel image, like other ghostly double exposures, carefully into orbit. On an inner shelf too high to reach.


I know why we bury our dead and mark the place with stone, with the heaviest, most permanent thing we can think of: because the dead are everywhere but the ground.


When we say we're looking for a spiritual adviser, we're really looking for someone to tell us what to do with our bodies. Decisions of the flesh.


A child doesn't know much about a man's face but feels what most of us believe all our lives, that he can tell a good face from a bad. The soldiers who performed their duty, handing back to mothers the severed heads of daughters - with braids and hairclips still in place - did not have evil in their faces. There was no perversion of features while they did their deeds. Where was their hatred their disgust, if not even in their eyes, rolling invisibly back in their sockets, focused on the unanswerable fact of having gone too far? There's the possibility that if one can't see it in the face, then there's no conscience left to arouse. But that explanation is obviously false, for some laughed as they poked out eyes with sticks, as they smashed infants' skulls against the good brick of good houses. For a long time I believed one learns nothing from a man's face. When Athos held me by the shoulders, when he said, "Look at me, look at me" to convince me of his goodness, he couldn't know how he terrified me, how meaningless the words. If truth is not in the face, then where is it? In the hands! In the hands.’

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