“Don’t worry about being good…. Aspire to be authentic.”
― Yann Martel,
Yann Martel’s first book, ‘Life of Pi’, was a worldwide smash hit. Loved by millions for its emotional look into the strength of human faith; not only in a spiritual sense, but a physical one as well. Yann Martel’s second book, not so much.
I was introduced to ‘Beatrice and Virgil’ while I worked at Borders Books. Publishing companies use to come once a season to give us an overview of books that would be releasing the upcoming months. These meetings were designed to help us sell the product better, but as a book nerd, it’s really a selfish attempt to get free books. The rep told us the book was not like ‘Life of Pi’, and didn’t have a lot of good buzz, but I took a copy anyway. Free books, I cannot deny thee.
‘Beatrice and Virgil’ is clearly very autobiographical. We follow the protagonist, a novelist named Henry, as his second novel is rejected. He feels he came up with the revolutionary idea of a “Flip-Book”: a work of fiction read one direction, a work of non-fiction in the opposite. However, the item isn’t sellable, nor is the subject matter: the Holocaust.
Upon receiving a letter from a taxidermist after the harsh rejection of his manuscript, his curiosity is peaked high enough to bring him to the taxidermy shop. Henry is whisked away on a journey by the taxidermist’s words into the world of a donkey named Beatrice, and a howler monkey named Virgil.
The story mirrors experiences of Jews during Nazi occupied Germany. It’s a remarkable odyssey the friends undergo. They are essentially two Jewish citizens on the run from the horrors taking place around them. We get to see their thoughts on the regime, and some of the experiences they’ve had dealing with the oppression. Sometimes their story is enduring, and other times, shocking. I will warn you, there are some violent scenes described in the book that can truly make you sick and give you nightmares.
Although this wasn’t the great book ‘Life of Pi’ was, Martel give the Holocaust a new twist that reveals it from a direction we haven’t seen before. The book is only 240 pages long, and worth your time if you want something a little more obscure.