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Yann Martel's new book courts controversy

Yann Martel, currently on tour in the U.S. to promote the illustrated edition of Life of Pi, shared details about his new book, A 20th-Century Shirt, which he says should be due in fall 2008.

The book is actually a novel and an essay rolled into one and will be published in an unconventional “flipbook” format, with each element printed upside down and back-to-back.

More provocative is the content of the novel, in which Martel says is essentially a retelling of the Holocaust in less “historical” terms:

The point I make in my essay is that I am not so much interested in the Holocaust itself — well, I am interested, just not in this book — as its representations…. And in the essay, I discuss how the nearly singular representation of the Holocaust is always in the same mode, and that mode is historical realism and social realism.

We don’t allow ourselves that liberty with the Holocaust. You know, a Holocaust Western, a Holocaust science-fiction movie, a Holocaust comedy, a Holocaust set in Bolivia, all of these feel like oxymorons to us. So in the essay, I discuss many things, but one of them is “Why do we limit our representations of the Holocaust so much?…”

Oh, and here’s a run-down of the plot:

History has to become story, and the Holocaust hasn’t. I discuss that in the essay, and then in the novel, I try to do a non-historical representation take on the Holocaust. It’s a story featuring a monkey and a donkey, and it’s set on a shirt. And the shirt is both a shirt and a country. So it’s a very far cry from your standard Holocaust story.

Here’s a hunch. While this may remind some of Martel’s signature magical realism, it may not have the same appeal of Life of Pi when applied to the Holocaust. If this Quillblogger knows anything about culture wars, it’s that “history has to become story”-style relativism is bound to touch raw nerves.


November 6th, 2007

1:36 pm

Category: Industry news