Synopses & Reviews
When Henry receives a letter from an elderly taxidermist, it poses a puzzle that he cannot resist. As he is pulled further into the world of this strange and calculating man, Henry becomes increasingly involved with the lives of a donkey and a howler monkey — named Beatrice and Virgil — and the epic journey they undertake together.
With all the spirit and originality that made Life of Pi so beloved, this brilliant new novel takes the reader on a haunting odyssey. On the way Martel asks profound questions about life and art, truth and deception, responsibility and complicity.
"Dark but divine....This novel might just be a masterpiece about the Holocaust....Martel brilliantly guides the reader from the too-sunny beginning into the terrifying darkness of the old man's shop and Europe's past. Everything comes into focus by the end, leaving the reader startled, astonished, and moved." USA Today
"[A] slim but potent exploration of the nature of survival in the face of evil....Beatrice and Virgil is a chilling addition to the literature about the horrors most of us cannot imagine, and will stir its readers to think about the depths of depravity to which humanity can sink and the amplitude of our capacity to survive." Nina Sankovitch, The Huffington Post
"Those spell-bound by Man Booker prize-winning Life of Pi will find much to love in Yann Martel’s new work of fiction....In Beatrice and Virgil, Martel again evokes the power of allegory, this time to address the legacy of the Holocaust — as well as the pleasure of fairy tales. At the heart of this novel are questions about truth and illusion, responsibility and innocence, and Martel is able to employ Beatrice and Virgil as sympathetic, nuanced vehicles for his vision. Beatrice and Virgil is a thought-provoking delight." Marie Claire
"Martel's Life of Pi engaged readers with the predicament of a shipwrecked boy and tiger; his new fable is just as inventive, provocative, and artful — only this time the peril is genocide." Good Housekeeping
"Brilliant...with this short, crisply written, many-layered book, Martel has once again demonstrated that nothing tells the truth like fiction....Another philosophical winner." The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Has many wonders...Martel’s latest book does something extraordinary. It causes the reader to contemplate serious ideas, and to think. Beatrice and Virgil will haunt you long after the final page." BookPage
"If Beatrice and Virgil were a piece of music, it would be an extended fugue, beginning so quietly as to be almost inaudible, and culminating in a moment of overwhelming noise followed by silence....There is indeed no exit from Beatrice and Virgil, not even when the book culminates in its final moment of overwhelming crescendo, as Martel’s characters find themselves trapped in an eruption of hell-like flames. Like the echoing themes of a fugue, all the components of the Martel’s novel fit tightly together, leading up to one ultimate moment of terror." The Harvard Crimson
About the Author
Yann Martel was born in Spain in 1963. After studying philosophy at university, he worked odd jobs and traveled before turning to writing at the age of twenty-six. He is the author of the internationally acclaimed 2002 Man Booker Prize–winning novel Life of Pi, which was translated into thirty-eight languages and spent fifty-seven weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Yann Martel lives in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Reading Group Guide
1. What is Beatrice & Virgil
2. Why do you think Martel decided to name both of his characters “Henry”?
3. Discuss the characters of Beatrice and Virgil. Why might Martel have chosen them to be a donkey and a howler monkey, and why might he have chosen to name these characters after Dante’s guides through hell, purgatory, and heaven?
4. What do you think of Henry’s original idea for his book? Do you agree with him that the Holocaust needs to be remembered in different ways, beyond the confines of “historical realism”? Why, or why not?
5. How would you compare Beatrice & Virgil to Life of Pi? How do Yann Martel’s aims in the two novels differ, and how are they similar?
6. Close to the start of the book, Henry (the writer) says, “A book is a part of speech. At the heart of mine is an incredibly upsetting event that can survive only in dialogue” (p. 12). What does this mean? How does his comment inform the book we are reading?
7. Describe the role Flaubert’s story “The Legend of Saint Julian Hospitator” plays in the novel.
8. How do you explain Henry’s wife’s reaction to the taxidermist and his workshop?
9. How do you feel about the play “A 20th-Century Shirt”? Could it be performed? What role does it play in the book?
10. What moral challenges does Beatrice & Virgil present the reader with? What does it leave you thinking about?
11. How is writing like or unlike taxidermy in the book?
12. What role do Erasmus and Mendelssohn play in the novel?
13. What is the significance of 68 Nowolipki Street?
14. How is Henry changed by the events of the novel? How does this relate to Beatrice and Virgil having “no reason to change” (p. 151) over the course of their play?
15. What would you put in your own sewing kit?