Beatrice and Virgil
By: Yann Martel
Has anyone here read "Beatrice and Virgil"?
That it somehow trivializes the Holocaust was probably the most common criticism of Martel’s novel, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the other attacks on the book were merely half-conscious expressions of anger on that point. In my mind, however, that charge is utter nonsense. Those actually trivializing the Holocaust are not novelists working to interpret it in news ways but rather those who don’t seem to have learned anything from it, i.e. the people who support Arab Israeli’s taking an oath of loyalty to the state or those who refuse to sell real estate to any but Jews.
This is a good novel, and I’m glad Quill & Quire included it on their Best of 2010 list. What makes the play-within-the-novel about a donkey and monkey work are its depressing repetitions, its atmosphere of utter stagnation and worry, along with the reader’s knowledge of what actually happened in the death camps. It is this knowledge of actual historical events that gives the otherwise mundane dialogues about food – “What I’d give for a pear” – their quiet power.