Anne Michaels's multileveled first novel (1996) is a poetic and moving exploration of love, memory, historical testimony and loss. The novel is divided into two sections and involves the intersecting stories of three men. It begins with the journal of Jakob Beer, a poet and translator who as a young boy was orphaned in Poland by the horrors of the Holocaust. He is rescued and cared for by scientist and humanist Athos Roussos, first on an island in Greece and, after the war, in Toronto. The second part is narrated by a young professor named Ben, himself the child of Holocaust survivors. Ben grows up in a silent Toronto household, haunted by guilt, the ghosts of his dead siblings and his parents' unrelieved anguish. When he meets the 60-year-old Jakob, he becomes fascinated by him and his writing.
Throughout the novel, the correlation between humanity and earth is emphasized; the human heart, Athos tells Jakob, is "the size and heaviness of a handful of earth." Furthermore, the characters' own layered memories and pasts are reflected in their scientific interest in geography, geology, meteorology, archaeology and botany. Each character quests to "make love necessary" and life meaningful in the face of grief and loss. Fugitive Pieces was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and won the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award, Ontario's Tillium Award, and England's Guardian Book Prize and Orange Prize.