Has anyone read Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel?

I’m just wondering what people thought of Beatrice and Virgil and the whole Holocaust theme.

Personally, just in case people haven’t read it, I’ll post my own impressions.
My initial feeling was the Martel was writing about a personal experience based on his reference to the main Character, Henry having such success with a book he wrote about animals. He never specifies the book’s title, but his award winning book The Life of Pi, followed that particular scenario.
After I read the book, I felt horrified about what happened to the characters Beatrice and Virgil. I felt drawn into the story through them, and then it was like the carpet was swept under my feet. I won’t tell you what happens so you can get that information yourself. Definitely worth the read.
I had heard that a lot of people didn’t understand the whole Holocaust imagery and were offended by how Martel presented it. I thought that perhaps they just didn’t get what he was doing. I thought it was very well handled, and it touched the emotions symbolically and appropriately just as such a subject should.
So I say well done to Martel and this work.
Any comments, thoughts, disagreements? Let me know I’m up for a positive healthy debate.

Thanks for the recommendation. I was at the library yesterday and picked it up. I finished it this morning.

It isn’t the easiest book to get into and there isn’t a whole lot of action but it is certainly worth the read.

The Holocaust is one of the defining moments of human history. Thankfully, most of us can’t even imagine what it would be like to be the powerful Nazi or worse the oppressed Jews and other marginalized groups living at that time and how we would react if we were. Could we act like Beatrice and Virgil? the boy?

I wasn’t completely happy with the ending. It is certainly surprising and shocking both within the play and within the novel itself. But I am not sure how I feel about Henry’'s response when he learns the truth and for sure I don’t like the outcome of the taxidermist. Is there a place for forgiveness or redemption. Not having been directly affected by the Holocaust I don’t even know if I am allowed an opinion but I don’t even know how Martel feels. The ending seems to contradict the heavy emphasis placed on the Flaubert story at the beginning.

The addition of the Games for Gustav had me thinking about how I would react under similar conditions.

Spoiler Alert: I will be discussing the ending of the novel. And where are you Kobuface? I’d like to hear your reaction to my reaction.

I watched Gandhi the other day. I saw it originally in the theatre in 1982 so I can’t remember how I felt at the time.

The two most disturbing scenes in the movie are the massacre at Amritsar when British troops opened fire killing over 300 and injuring a thousand more, and the march to the sea to gain control of the right to make salt. Indians were clubbed by the police as they passively and peacefully walked to the shore. The latter scene reminded me of the treatment of the Freedom Riders at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.

None of those events comes anywhere close to the horror and magnitude of the Holocaust. They don’t even compare to other atrocities like the mass killings of Armenians or Kurds or the several groups of people in different parts of Africa.

However, they do remind us that whatever took place in Germany or Turkey or Iraq or Africa or the US even after the end of slavery did and can happen in places that we can identify with. We can’t set ourselves up as superior because we live in a more civilized Canada, part of the British Empire and all that chap. All of us would like to think we are above the death camp killer but who knows.

That’s why I didn’t like the ending of Beatrice and Virgil. When Henry realizes that the taxidermist is describing his actions as a Nazi collaborator he acts with shock and revulsion. No problem there as I think that would be a common reaction. He wonders how he didn’t realize what his wife and neighbours sensed about the man even though they were unaware of the truth. He rejects the taxidermist’s plea to take the play. Again I have no problem with that. Henry’s response, given the moment, are perfectly understandable.

It’s what happens next that bothers me. The taxidermist says something like “If you won’t take my play then take this” and stabs Henry, nearly killing him. He then sets his shop on fire and dies in the blaze. I am OK with the taxidermist killing himself. If he is guilt-ridden and sees Henry’s reaction as the final rejection then that is perfectly understandable. But why was it necessary to have him stab Henry.

Clearly the man has been tormented about his past. He wasn’t writing the play to glorify his actions.

Now I am not looking to give the man sympathy. His past actions speak for themselves. But having him stab Henry only does one of two things. It makes him out to be mentally unstable, or he is still the cruel savage of his Nazi past. Is that the only kind of person that could have acted as he did?

Martel had me curious about how a person like the taxidermist could live with themselves years after their commission of horrors. How did those British soldiers feel years later about killing those innocent Indians. Did they just rationalize it away. And how would we respond to learning that somebody we knew and liked had committed such atrocities. Were they any different than the people who were “just following orders” in Nazi Germany.

By having the taxidermist stab Henry, we can now write him off and maybe anybody else who was like him. That might be OK. But in Martel’s story where the taxidermist was coming across as a somewhat sympathetic character, we lose the opportunity to discuss a whole lot more.