I have a habit of reading books without reading the reviews or summaries, and often I have no idea what I am getting into. As a result, I end up reading horrific tales of war and violence, themes I would normally attempt to avoid. For example, lately I recently read Murakami's Wind Up Bird Chronicles and Yan Martel's Beatrice and Virgil and Life of Pi.
In the Murakami novel a Japanese soldier is skinned alive by Mongolian and Russian soldiers. In the Martel novel, Life of Pi, Martel uses animal killings as a metaphor for human violence. A hyena eat a a zebra, slowly, ick, and, well, let's just say it's very reminiscent of the Murakami scene.
InBeatrice and Virgil I realized, only in the second half of the novel, that one of the main characters is a Nazi war criminal, seeking forgiveness. I also learned that this book was not nearly as well liked as Pi, but I really liked it. I think it has many of the appealing aspects of a Murakami novel-- it is deeply imagined and moves on many levels. In the end, the book reminded me (ever so slightly) of that movie, The Fog of War, in which Robert McNamara talks for hours about his role in World War II and Vietnam, as if he is needing to explain, to apologize, to redeem himself, even as he confesses.
Nin Andrews is the author of 5 full collections of poetry and 6 chapbooks. She is also the editor of a book of translations of the Belgian poet, Henri Michaux. Her literary comics are posted on Best American Poetry's Blog on Monday mornings.