Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Yann Martel takes on the Holocaust and Stephen Harper

The headline in The Telegraph quoted Martel saying "Jews don't own the Holocaust." Naturally, I was intrigued and so I headed over to The Guardian (yes, sometimes it happens) to read the review in question. It seems that the criticism directed at Martel is not because he is a non-Jew writing about the Holocaust, but because people think his book is not good. Having not read the book I can't say. What really caught my attention was this self-righteous, holier than thou, I am the greatest-thinker-in-Canada musing:

For the last three years Martel has been sending fortnightly letters and books to the Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper – an attempt to educate him in the ways of great literature. Martel was prompted to act as a literary godfather when Harper cited The Guinness Book of Records as his favourite book, and by his failure to recognise the importance of the arts generally. "I'm doing it to point out that literature's not just entertainment," he explains. "It is an essential tool to look at the human condition. I don't care if fellow citizens read or not; it's not up to me to say how people should live their lives. But I believe people who lead should read."

He says that, in Harper, he sensed "a man who was a narrow ideologue, in part because he hasn't read. He lacks empathy because he hasn't read literature. If literature does one thing, it makes you more empathetic by making you live other lives and feel the pain of others. Ideologues don't feel the pain of others because they haven't imaginatively got under their skins." The books Martel has sent include George Orwell's Animal Farm, Jane Austen's The Watsons and Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. He's had a few pro forma replies from the PM's office, but nothing from Harper himself, which he contrasts with the handwritten note he received from Barack Obama saying how much he and his daughter Malia had enjoyed Life of Pi.

Well he is right about one thing: Ideologues don't feel the pain of others. He is just confused about who the ideologues are, even though he received a handwritten letter from one.