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Beatrice and Virgil Reader’s Guide

By Yann Martel

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. What is Beatrice & Virgil about?
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?

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