It isn’t every day that the non-profit organization for which you volunteer graces the front pages of the daily newspaper let alone receives a ‘mention’ in an award-winning novel. The latter was the case in Anne Michaels’ 1996 novel, Fugitive Pieces, which won the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Guardian Fiction Prize, the Trillium Book Award and was adapted into a film by producer Robert Lantos in 2007.
I had heard so much about the title time and time again but had never actually got around to reading it. I wanted to remedy that situation. On a whim, while visiting a friend in London, England, I asked her to borrow a copy from the local library for me.
Let’s just say that the pacing of the first chapter had me hooked. Both gripping and raw, Fugitive Pieces tells the story of seven year old Polish boy, Jakob Beer, who flees his Nazi persuers. With his rescuer, Greek geologist Athos Roussos, he settles in a small town in Greece and eventually emigrates to Toronto.
As I read on, I learned about the effects of the Second World War, the rations, the raids and life in general in Greece. Several chapters later though, I faltered. Right there on the page in black and white were the familiar letters WEA. I did a double-take as I saw these three initials neatly tucked on the page and thought to myself--could it be? I read the passage again just to be sure there was no mistake, WEA (Worker’s Educational Association) had been mentioned and its role in the community outlined for its readers. The organization which, among other things, offers courses through University In the Community and produces the publication Learning Curves, which you are now reading, has been instrumental in promoting life-long learning in Canada, and receives a mention from this author.
Apart from spotting WEA on the page of this best-selling novel, what I enjoyed about Fugitive Pieces was how Michaels effortlessly incorporates haunting elements of lyrical prose at every turn. Giving Toronto a voice by naming familiar parts of the city that I have come to know personally, made the story more relatable to her story. It also helped to 'brand' the city to the point where The City of Toronto became a character of sorts. In fact, The City of Toronto literally became a character of sorts.
Anne Michaels’ latest release is the poetry collection Correspondences for which she collaborated with visual artist and writer Bernice Eisenstein. The book made the Canadian Shortlist for the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize which awards two literary prizes of $65,000 each and an additional $10,000 to shortlisted poets.
You can read more about the Griffin Prize here: www.griffinpoetryprize.com/awards-andpoets/shortlists/2014-shortlist/anne-michaels/
Angela Walcott is a Toronto-based freelance writer and member of the Worker’s Educational Association of Canada as well as the Professional Writer’s Association of