Life of Martel 

If fiction flowers from seeds of fact, then best-selling author Yann Martel's latest offering is a thin and twisty vine that clearly sprouted from his own life. The protagonist of Beatrice and Virgil is a Canadian novelist famous for a book with animal characters. In 2001, Martel (who is also Canadian) published Life of Pi, which features a boatful of wild creatures, including a tiger and a zebra. Wildlife abounds in Beatrice and Virgil, too, but mostly in the form of the perfectly preserved residents of a taxidermy shop visited by Henry, the Martel stand-in. Two of those dead animals are the title creatures, a donkey and a howler monkey, cast as characters in the story within the story. The slim volume is a deceptively quick read. Martel packs every page with philosophy woven into magical realism, and he wraps up with a brutal twist that turns the whimsy into powerful historical commentary. Hear Martel read from Beatrice and Virgil at 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library (4801 Main, 816-701-3407). Reservations are recommended. See kclibrary.org.
Thu., May 20, 2010

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