My review of Beatrice and Virgil

Yann Martel‘s Beatrice & Virgil fits itself in to (unlucky?) book number 13 in my “26 in 52 challenge“. Similar to Paulo Coelho, Yann Martel is an author whose first book drew me in and has had me coming back for more, even though each time I’m disappointed it was not as good as the first.

This is the third non-fiction book by Martel that I’ve read (the other two being Self and the amazing Life of Pi). It has a clever premise with two parallel stories. The first features an author who meets a taxidermist through a fan mail letter that got the best of his curiosity. The author finds out that the taxidermist requires his help writing a story, and throughout the novel the story unfolds as the taxidermist reads parts out loud. The other parallel features the story of Beatrice & Virgil, a donkey and howler monkey, respectively.

Beatrice & Virgil are by far the more enjoyable part of the novel. The dialogue between the two is quite visual and as a reader I feel like I’m with them as they go through their adventures, good and bad. Eventually it’s obvious to the author and the reader that the adventures of Beatrice & Virgil are a parallel to that of the persecution the Jews saw during the Holocaust. It’s done in a more innocent manner, almost like a children’s novel so for me it wasn’t very emotional, as it would be if it were a story of people going through the same ordeals.

Eventually the author, who has gone through major changes in his personal life, comes to the realization that the taxidermist is not very liked by his peers and is generally not a good person at all. This can be seen from the start of the novel, but it’s explained away as him being a old, lonely man with no family.

While the story itself was good, I didn’t feel much of an emotional connection to the novel. The use of animals was reminiscent of Martel’s Life of Pi, but failed to capture it’s vivid and emotional feel. I want to like Martel’s books, because he’s a fantastic writer, but I’m having trouble doing so. I give Beatrice & Virgil a 3/5.

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Review of a Paulo Coelho book

Earlier this week I finished Paulo Coelho‘s “By the river Piedra I sat down and wept“. It was my tenth book by by the auther, and out of all of them, my favourite is still the first, “The Alchemist”.

The story follows a girl, Pilar, who reconnects with her first love from her teenage years. The reader follows her as she battles her inner self, which is trying to tell her the life she leads in her small village, going to school is safer and smarter. Her manfriend from childhood has turned into a spiritual guru of sorts. He opens up a whole new world to Pilar that reintroduces her to her faith.

This one is in the bottom-end of my top five Coelho books, simply because the story is a lot more interesting than the last few I’ve read. I also find myself feeling for Pilar and her struggles, which I haven’t felt from his books in quite some time.

I give By the river Piedra I sat down and wept a 3.5/5. It’s an easy read and you probably won’t hate it, but it isn’t riveting enough to give it a full-on endorsement.

If you read Coelho, which one of his books is your favourite and why?

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