In Praise of Yann Martel

Close your eyes. Describe what you see.

I see darkness. I see spots. I see grains. I see Emptiness. I see black.

Open your eyes. Imagine the blind. What do they see when they close their eyes?

You don’t know. I don’t know.

What do you think is the hardest thing for a blind person to imagine? Shapes? Numbers? I don’t think so, he can learn them with the touch of his hand can’t he? How about colors? He knows the sky is blue. But what is blue? How does he know what any color looks like?

I absolutely loved Yann Martel’s first novel. Life of Pi. Borrowed it of a friend, Penelope, and was half tempted to never return it back (she has a memory of a gold fish that’s why). But I did return it, only so I could go and purchase a copy of my own to proudly display over my book shelf. Life of Pi really made me think, the book had levels unimaginable. But then again as Yann Martel puts it – what’s unlike the unthinkable to make people believe? I still do have a few questions unanswered from the book. If anyone knows, what did the meerkats symbolize in the book? I still have no idea. That’s the beauty of Yann Martel’s writing. He makes you think, he makes you analyze, he gets you drilling and he gets you wondering about questions that you knew were buried deep within somewhere but just needed an instigation to leap out.

I was anxious to read his second novel but he took 9 years to come out with Beatrice and Virgil. 9 years from the time Life of Pi was published in 2001 and it seemed like a freakishly long period to keep a fan waiting. Would it be worth it? Life of Pi was not just an international bestseller but a man booker prize winning book and it is always hard to scale the graph when you are already at the peak. However, the idea of his new book gave a new meaning to originality, there was a donkey and a howler monkey named Beatrice and Virgil respectively, a story of two stuffed animals and a series of conversations between the two leading to an illusionistic representation of the Holocaust beginning with the description of a fruit. It took me just two evenings to finish the book  because I couldn’t stop turning the pages. All I can say is, it was worth the wait.

Beatrice & Virgil started off with the story of a writer named Henry whom I like to think of as Yann Martel’s first choice for a pen name instead of the other way around as it is portrayed in the book. Henry is intoxicated with the idea of writing a book on a subject as highly sensitive as the holocaust and decides to make a flip book of it only to be hounded like dogs by his editors who think of it as an outrageously bad idea. There starts his journey to finally discover the unforeseen lead characters for his new novel nine years later.

Now you are wondering about the first few paragraphs. What was that nonsense about a blind man and not being able to see colors? I don’t know, but perhaps it’s the inspiration from Henry’s idea of creating a flip book which he never finally got to achieve. A flip book lets you choose how you want to read your story. You can now read the first few paragraphs and then the following line.

In praise of Yann Martel, words are magic; if he can write a whole chapter on a pear, he can without a doubt describe blue to a blind man.

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