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Author Yann Martel Discusses Follow-up to 'Life of Pi'


by Danielle Georgiou 26 May 2010

The Horchow Auditorium was packed full of animal and human lovers alike Tuesday night as author Yann Martel descended upon the Dallas Museum of Art to discuss his new novel, Beatrice and Virgil, as well as to answer questions about his literary techniques and his fascination with animals.

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Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a Dance Lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington where she serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. She is also a member of Muscle Memory Dance Theatre – a modern dance collective.

The Horchow Auditorium was packed full of animal and human lovers alike Tuesday night as author Yann Martel descended upon the Dallas Museum of Art to discuss his new novel, Beatrice and Virgil, as well as to answer questions about his literary techniques and his fascination with animals.

In his award-winning novel, Life of Pi, he created a menagerie where humans and animals co-exist and animals have humanistic qualities. By doing so, he created a narrative to discuss taboo topics, such as religion and death. His reasoning for doing so is that he believes that animals can reveal the truth behind human actions. Take the institution of zoos. Zoos do a great service to the world by exposing animals to man; not everyone has the chance to travel and see them in their natural habitat. Zoos allow people to see and feel empathy toward animals, and Martel attempts to create that same emotion with his novels, particularly with his new work, Beatrice and Virgil. It explores the limitations of language in describing and understanding the horrors of the Holocaust.

It is difficult for people to come to terms with the Holocaust and the treatment of the Jews. We still cannot wrap our minds around how man could treat his fellow man in such a disgusting and torturous way. But if you frame it in the context of the mistreatment and unnecessary death of animals – in the case of Beatrice and Virgil, a stuffed monkey and donkey in a taxidermy shop – we can begin to understand. Martel used the analogy that if a boat with 500 people in Bangladesh sinks and everyone drowns, it will have limited coverage in an American newspaper. But if a barn with 18 horses burns and the animals die, people will feel empathic and say “poor animals, they didn’t deserve that,” and the story will get massive coverage.  If we have to see ourselves as animals to understand our actions, then so be it.

Martel is a great storyteller, written and oral. He enveloped the audience into his world and had them laughing along with his personal anecdotes. Like how on every second Monday of every month he sends a book (under 200 pages) and a letter to the Prime Minister of Canada with the hope that he will read and open his perspective of the world. So far he has sent 81 books and has only received five cordial responses.

He believes that by reading, you open your mind and allow yourself to become more tolerant and understanding of the world. As a writer, he wants readers to create their own understanding, to realize there is no wrong way of interpreting a text. As Pi said, “You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently.”

To read an excerpt from Beatrice and Virgil, click here.

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