Beatice and Virgil. Yann Martel. View it in the Argo Digital Catalog.
The Holocaust is an event that never ceases to be in the westernÂ media. When it comes to the topic we all know there is a strong lobby that tends to react with vehemence towards anything other than a straight-forward “facts-first” approach to the Shoah. I realize, understand, and sympathize with the concern amongst sections of the populace that we do not trivialize the events, that we do not negate their value, and that we do not forget those who died. I studied genocide for a while, almost doing a masters degree in the field, before getting fed upÂ with the close-minded attitudes that pervaded the field. I have avoided reading anything about genocides or watching movies involving them for several years because I “know the story” the way we do not need to read Dickens because we know the story. In truth I know the story in that I know the main events and the lens through which they will be interpreted. Yann Martel’s new book caught my attention because it is about trying to write about the Holocaust in a meta-sense. He is not the first person to attempt this and he certainly will not be the last, but I thought if he lived up to his reputation as a playful author this would be an interesting interpretation to say the least. I was not to be disappointed.
First off it is clear that in dedicating years of his life to the project Martel was not taking the Holocaust lightly. In truth, Martel is careful in his book and he never trivializes the Holocaust. To anyone that reads the book (without and intense bias against artistic representations of events) the critics that are claiming such come off as shrill-agenda-pushing reviewers that have not read the book but are angry that Martel would dare to write about the Holocaust in an artistic manner. The reality is that many wars are defined by the movies, novels or paintings they inspired. Some wars are (arguably) famous and still remembered due to the power of the images they left in their wake. This does not undermine them but rather re-empowers them by creating new witnesses forever. Anyone that thinks the Death of General Wolfe or The Shootings of May 3rd in Madrid, 1814 or The Heart of Darkness, undermine, undervalue or dis-serve the battles they reflect, is woefully closed-minded and painfully unimaginative. I would not want to live a world ruled by them, it would be too gray and dreary, like I picture Stalinist Russia with its artless apartment complexes. As art has a role in architecture and apartment buildings so it does in war and the disgusting depravity of mankind.
Beatrice and Virgil is a good book. While the final scene appears to be poorly conceived and is too violent in comparison with the rest of the book and much of the dialogue is poorly constructed (the world really doesn’t need a new character for Clint Eastwood) overall the writing is respectable and the construction of the novel complicated and fulfilling. There are many things to think about in this book and many connections to make both between passages in the text and to things outside of it. This book certainly requires and deserves more than a single read through. I suggest you read it because it continues a conversation that is fast growing stale and the conversation is too important for us to allow that to happen.