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Beatrice and Virgil: A Novel Paperback – February 22, 2011
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I often get asked the question why I use animals in my stories. Life of Pi was set in a zoo and featured a number of animals, and animals once again play a prominent role in my new novel, Beatrice and Virgil. Am I a great animal lover? Well, I suppose I am; nature is indeed beautiful. But the actual reason I like to use animals is because they help me tell my tale. People are cynical about people, but less so about wild animals. A rhinoceros dentist elicits less skepticism, in some ways, than a German dentist. I also use animals in my fiction because people rarely see animals as they truly are, biologically. Rather, they tend to project human traits onto them, seeing nobility in one species, cowardice in another, and so on. This is biological nonsense, of course; every species is and behaves as it needs to in order to survive. But this animal-as-canvas quality is useful for a storyteller. It means that an animal that people feel kindly towards becomes a character that readers feel kindly towards.
Why did I choose to write a novel about the Holocaust? There’s nothing personal to this interest; I’m neither Jewish, nor of German or eastern European extraction. I’m a complete outsider who’s been staring at this monstrous massacre of innocents since I first learned about it as a child living in France. It’s as an artist that I’ve kept coming back to the subject. What can I do as an artist about the Holocaust? I believe that if history does not express itself as art, it will not survive in common human memory. And so I took what I knew of the Holocaust, the cumulative knowledge of my reading and viewing and visiting (both to camps in Poland and Germany and to Yad Vashem in Israel and to various museums), and I set it next to that part of me that wants to understand through the imagination. Then I sat down and wrote Beatrice and Virgil.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
The central character of Beatrice and Virgil is a novelist named Henry. Henry has written a very successful book that featured animals as characters. Henry's career, in short, is remarkably similar to that of Yann Martel. The beginning of the novel describes his travails while attempting to publish a follow up to his very successful book. Henry, who is not Jewish, wants to write about the Holocaust. He has noticed that almost all Holocaust fiction is in the style of historical realism. Henry believes there are other ways to have this dialogue, to tell this story. "Other events in history, including horrifying ones, had been treated by artists. To take just three well-known instances of artful witness: Orwell with Animal Farm, Camus with The Plague, Picasso with Guernica. In each case, the artist had taken a vast, sprawling tragedy, had found its heart and had represented it in a non-literal and compact way. The unwieldy encumbrance of history was packed into a suitcase. Art as suitcase, light, portable and essential--was such a treatment not possible, indeed, was it not necessary, with the greatest tragedy of Europe's Jews?"
It is this that Henry attempts, but fails, to write. Despite his exalted stature, he is told repeatedly that his book is unpublishable. At this point, sick of publishing and completely blocked, Henry decides to pursue other interests. He and his wife move to an unnamed major city in another county.Read more ›
Unfortunately, Yann Martel's new Holocaust novel, "Beatrice and Virgil," is not worth it.
In many ways it is an arresting work that pulled me inside and kept me compulsively reading. It beguiled. It charmed. It triggered an abundance of tantalizing intellectual associations. But, it is a very odd book: an absurdist allegorical play with animal characters, contained within a thinly disguised memoir, enveloped within an odd fictional mystery, and the whole work is interlaced with fascinating, obtuse, intellectual essays. The writing is at times utterly mesmerizing and brilliant; at other times, it is downright boring. Again and again, the book begs the reader to discover where this is all leading. And then finally, in the last 30 pages or so, the reader is hit over the head with an emotional sledgehammer so effectively that the pain of this Holocaust encounter put me in a state of shock. Frankly, I felt manipulated and conned.
So, if this appeals to you, go ahead and read it. For those that loved "Life of Pi," this is nothing like that book. The novel is odd and wonderful, but it also misses the mark. I will not recommend it to my friends, and it is not a work that I would enjoy discussing with a book club.
Martel here attempts a direct challenge to the famous remark by Theodor Adorno (to paraphrase--after Auschwitz, poetry is no longer possible) by writing a work of fiction about the Holocaust, even though the author is not himself a Holocaust survivor. I had a colleague who taught "literature of the Holocaust," but always refused to include any fictional narratives--only factual, truthful, survivors' narratives were allowed in his course. He felt the reality of the Holocaust was such that no fiction could convey it and no writer of fiction had the moral right to attempt it. Martel does not so much contradict that view as explore its implications in the intricate self-reflexive novel he has created. His narrator, Henry, has written a novel the characters of which are animals--a work received favorably enough to make him financially secure--but he is "blocked" since his more recent effort--a novel about the Holocaust that he wants to be published in tandem with an essay on the subject. His editors have concluded that the work is umpublishable because it would never sell--people would not understand what it was.
This Henry receives a manuscript from another Henry, a mysterious man who makes his living as a taxidermist and has written a play--Beatrice and Virgil--in which two animal characters, a howler monkey and a donkey, contemplate the fate of life on earth following some (at first) unexplained calamity.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The first time I read it, I immediately felt like I should read it again- maybe I missed something? The characters haunted me for days after. I felt like I had suffered a loss. Read morePublished 18 days ago by Sara Beyrle
The reviews suggested another book might be a better place for my attention but after reading Mr. Martel's third book I was curious enough to experience this work. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Gregory A. Leach
I've taught university classes on genocide, used many texts, but this particular one, using a monkey and donkey in lieu of human characters and narrators, allows readers to engage... Read morePublished 2 months ago by neraklacey
This book is so compellingly written... Some things are a little convenient but it is such a beautiful and affecting approach to the topic that I don't mind.Published 3 months ago by Emmy
A dark, deep book. Makes you think. Martel draws unlikely parallels, but leaves a lasting impression.Published 11 months ago by Abha Gosavi
Really beautiful book...the section describing the pear was amazingPublished 11 months ago by Andrew Wulf
This is another gem by Martel. A story within a story. I will not give away the plot as I loved experiencing the unfolding of the story. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Teresa Dobles