Navigate to News section

NYT Critic Tears Into Martel

Kakutani gives Vox Tablet subject the works

by
Marc Tracy
April 14, 2010
Yann Martel.(Wikimedia Commons)

Yann Martel.(Wikimedia Commons)

Michiko Kakutani, the lead New York Times book critic, yesterday took out her infamous hatchet and exercised her swinging arm on Yann Martel’s new Holocaust-themed novel, Beatrice and Virgil—which just so happened to be the subject of this week’s Vox Tablet podcast.

Martel’s “misconceived and offensive” book, Kakutani writes,

has the effect of trivializing the Holocaust, using it as a metaphor to evoke “the extermination of animal life” and the suffering of “doomed creatures” who “could not speak for themselves.”



The reader is encouraged to see the stuffed animals Beatrice and Virgil—who have endured torture, starvation and humiliation—as stand-ins for the Jews, and to equate the terrible things they’ve witnessed—referred to as “the Horrors”—to the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

She concludes by calling the novel “disappointing and often perverse.” Yikes.

It’s worth noting that many reviews were positive: a “masterpiece about the Holocaust”; “complex and nuanced”; etc.

Our podcast is not a review, but rather an interview with the author. We’ll let him have the last word on The Scroll: “The Holocaust was so unbelievable, such an assault on innocent civilians,” he tells Senior Editor Sara Ivry.

I think its unbelievability will increase with time. Now, that the knowledge is still historically fresh … because we know it was true, can in a sense still smell it in the air of Europe, we believe it, and it’s believable. But in 50 years, when you read Elie Wiesel, when you read Primo Levi, it will be unbelievable. … I’m afraid people will not disbelieve it, but just not connect with it, and what will help connect is if we use the tools of art. Because great art is timeless.

Of course, the real last word is the book itself.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

Thank you for reading Tablet.

The Jewish world needs a place like Tablet where varying—even conflicting—viewpoints can exist side by side. Our times demand an engagement with big ideas and not a retreat from them. Help us do what we do.