Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil

Beatrice and VirgilBeatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For you to cry at the last part of the novel is normal. If it is a romantic story… You cry because of the lived-happily-ever-after or because of a bittersweet memory, or the acceptance to start again. But to cry on an empty box that the author asks you to fill in? That is not normal. Not normal, but too emotional.

Yann Martel takes another provocative novel to another level, to test your humanity, and to test your perspective in life and in living it. He has made you see survival in the Life of Pi, and you will see his imprint in Beatrice and Virgil.

The story is about a writer named Henry, a frustrated writer after formulating his invention of a flipbook, combining a fable and an essay in one – about Holocaust. After five years of soul-searching, researching and talking with different people to personify a morbid history – speaking of which is a taboo in some places, the result is a flop. This is a big failure that led him to move from one continent to another just to start life all over.

Years of peace later, in an unexpected event he crossed paths with a taxidermist that needed his help. The taxidermist is creating a play about a donkey and a monkey – named Beatrice and Virgil – and arrange it properly so that the chronology and its true story will be seen and heard in a theatre. It is considered the taxidermist’s life’s work.

I consider this book as another genius because it touches the heart of the reader and made you transport through time, in a magical place of stripes, a country of wide shirt with all those games for Gustav and the full brightness of the sun, giving you an inch of shadow in your being. It was constructed not as a flipbook like Henry the writer would have wanted, but it has an empty space – giving you no endings, but a new “beginning”. There are no chapters that separate a page from another, just like a play, it was supposed to be understood in different settings to suit the mood of the conversation and the trail of thoughts.

Honestly, I cannot empathize to the victims of the Second World War or whatever they have thought before and after it happened. I cannot easily relate to those victims of Holocaust, or even retell the history because I have never experienced such reality. I have to apologize for not stepping on their shoes. But I want to thank the author for experiencing the feeling of whatever they felt then. It made me gasp, made me wanted to shout (just that I read the climax of the story in a setting that shouting will require expulsion in the place), and made me cry in silence. I want to thank the author for letting me play Games for Gustav as it was a quiz after reading all those “unreadable” segments. It left me a stigma to appreciate the events before. It left me a challenge to retell the story as vivid and as humane as it can be.

The challenge of a reader in Beatrice and Virgil is what Henry the writer said:
“The sun of faith came before the generous wind, but which came first, the black cat or the three whispered jokes?”

How the Henry the writer tells his story will always be different on how will you fill in the box in the last piece of Games for Gustav. How will the sun shine on you depends on how long will you cast you own shadow.

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