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Animal Planet

Yann Martel’s new novel features a donkey, a monkey, taxidermy, and a Holocaust allegory

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An osteologist with animal heads at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, in 1923.(Library of Congress)

Yann Martel’s 2001 novel Life of Pi chronicled a young Indian man’s 227 days adrift at sea with a Bengal tiger. Part fable, part exploration of religion, ritual, and story-telling, it was a tremendous international success and earned Martel the prestigious Man Booker Prize. With his new novel, Beatrice and Virgil, Martel once again uses animals to tell his story. Ostensibly, the novel is about an acclaimed novelist who’s lost his calling and an aloof taxidermist who comes to him for literary advice. Within the novel is a play about a persecuted donkey, named Beatrice, and monkey, Virgil, whose circumstances come to look frighteningly similar to those of Europe’s Jews during the Holocaust. Both the novel and the play within the novel probe the difficulty of representing historical events that are all but unimaginable. Martel spoke by phone with Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry from a hotel in London, where he was on book tour, about the strengths and weaknesses of Holocaust literature as we know it, about the mixed messages of taxidermy, and about our over-identification with animals and under-identification with our own species. 

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We Need Books on how the Rockefeller Family and the Zionists Had A Hand in the Holocaust!!!

Martel seems to think that there isn’t much imaginative fiction about the Holocaust; he mentions only Everything Is Illuminated. There’s much more: Markus Zuzak’s The Book Thief, Art Spiegelman’s Maus stories; several of Aharon Appelfeld’s wonderful novels, not to mention scores of books for young adults.

And I forgot to mention Andre Schwartz-Bart’s THE LAST OF THE JUST and Michael Chabon’s THE ADVENTURES OF CAVALIER AND CLAY.

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Animal Planet

Yann Martel’s new novel features a donkey, a monkey, taxidermy, and a Holocaust allegory

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