Oh now hang on, my friend Doug is tapping on the window
Hey Doug! How you been?
He brings me a book of holocaust poetry, complete with pictures
And then he tells me to get ready for the rain
And we call upon the author to explain.
~Nick Cave, "We Call Upon the Author," Dig, Lazarus, Dig!
"Don't ask questions you don't want answers to." Thus spake Agent K, as played by Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin. I was indulging in "Men in Black 3" as therapy for a book haunting: I had just finished Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel.
As in Life of Pi, Martel's premise is that facts are only part of the truth. Emotional state is a huge factor, and Martel is a master at evoking emotions through storytelling. You go along thinking this is an improbable tale, you're not really connecting with anything, you're just an observer; and all along, he's got you.
What he's trying to do - exposing his motives and methods most obligingly - is add a storytelling element to history. There are occurrences in history that are told almost entirely through fact, without the rich human element of stories and imagination to bring them to life. But those are the components that are necessary to make something real as well as true.
"I take it this is a love story?" asked a naive woman at work. Errm, no. "Beatrice and Virgil are Dante's guides through heaven, purgatory and hell in the Divine Comedy," I replied. "Ohhh," she answered, as if that explained anything. I could also have said, "Beatrice and Virgil are a stuffed donkey and a stuffed howler monkey in a taxidermist's shop." Another part of the truth.
(I recently learned weird tidbits about taxidermy from Jenny Lawson's book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened. What an odd karmic path I am following.)
Who are Beatrice and Virgil REALLY? They are the characters you care about. Without your permission or awareness, they invest you with ideas and emotions. They come alive through their dialogue while all the time you think the story is happening in the "real world." And then suddenly everything is exposed, and you find out how much you care.
SPOILER ALERT. What historical facts has Martel chosen to clothe with imagination and emotion? "Don't ask questions you don't want to know the answers to."
I didn't really want to confront and experience the imaginative, emotional reality of the Holocaust.
But you see that line that's moving through the station?
I told you ... I told you ... I told you, I was one of those.
~ Leonard Cohen, "First We Take Manhattan"