Beatrice and Virgil

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Beatrice and Virgil

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.


I have read Beatrice and Virgil and think it is brilliant.  Far from trivializing the Holocaust, I found that it gave it new depth and meaning.  The conversations of Beatrice and Virgil make perfect sense in the context of "The Horror".  As victims in hiding, what would you talk about?  The Games for Gustav at the end were incredibly thought provoking.  I used them in a lesson with my grade 10 history students.  When we first started taking them up students were nervously giggling.  By the third one there was intense silence as they were clearly thinking about the scenarios and what they might do.  On exit cards students referred to the lesson as "powerful" and were very positive.