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Title : Acclaim for Yann Martel's Life of Pi Author : Jerome Liu
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Acclaim for Yann Martel's Life of Pi
"Life of Pi is not just a readable and engaging novel, it's a finely
twisted length of yarn—
yarn implying a far-fetched story you can't quite swallow whole, but
outright. Life of Pi is in this tradition—a story of uncertain veracity,
made credible by the
art of the yarn-spinner. Like its noteworthy ancestors, among which
I take to be Robinson
Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, the Ancient Mariner, Moby Dick and Pincher
Martin, it's a
tale of disaster at sea coupled with miraculous survival—a boys'
grownups." —Margaret Atwood, The Sunday Times (London)
"A fabulous romp through an imagination by turns ecstatic, cunning,
resilient, this novel is an impressive achievement. . . . Martel displays
the clever voice
and tremendous storytelling skills of an emerging master." —Publisher's
"[Life of Pi] has a buoyant, exotic, insistence reminiscent of Edgar
Allen Poe's most
Gothic fiction. . . . Oddities
abound and the storytelling is first-rate. Yann Martel has written a
novel full of grisly
reality, outlandish plot, inventive setting and thought-provoking
questions about the value
and purpose of fiction."
—The Edmonton journal
"Martel's ceaselessly clever writing . . . [and] artful, occasionally
dialogue . . . make a fine argument for the divinity of good art." —The
"Astounding and beautiful. . . . The book is a pleasure not only for
the subtleties of its
philosophy but also for its ingenious and surprising story. Martel is a confident, heartfelt
artist, and his imagination is cared for in a writing style that is both unmistakable and
marvelously reserved. The ending of Life of Pi... is a show of such sophisticated genius
that I could scarcely keep my eyes in my head as I read it." —The Vancouver
"I guarantee that you will not be able to put this book down. It is a realistic, gripping
story of survival at sea. [Martel's] imagination is powerful, his range enormous, his
capacity for persuasion almost limitless. I predict that Yann Martel will develop into one
of Canada's great writers." —The Hamilton Spectator
"Life of Pi is a marvelous feat of imagination and inquiry. Yann Martel has earned his
stripes as a novelist of grand ideas and sports them here as surely as Richard Parker, the
majestic Bengal tiger, wears his own black and orange skin." —The Ottawa
life of pi
This book was born as I was hungry. Let me explain. In the spring of 1996, my second
book, a novel, came out in Canada. It didn't fare well. Reviewers were puzzled, or
damned it with faint praise. Then readers ignored it. Despite my best efforts at playing
the clown or the trapeze artist, the media circus made no difference. The book did not
move. Books lined the shelves of bookstores like kids standing in a row to play baseball
or soccer, and mine was the gangly, unathletic kid that no one wanted on their team. It
vanished quickly and quietly.
The fiasco did not affect me too much. I had already moved on to another story, a novel
set in Portugal in 1939. Only I was feeling restless. And I had a little money.
So I flew to Bombay. This is not so illogical if you realize three things: that a stint in
India will beat the restlessness out of any living creature; that a little money can go a long
way there; and that a novel set in Portugal in 1939 may have very little to do with
Portugal in 1939.
I had been to India before, in the north, for five months. On that first trip I had come to
the subcontinent completely unprepared. Actually, I had a preparation of one word. When
I told a friend who knew the country well of my travel plans, he said casually, "They
speak a funny English in India. They like words like bamboozle." I remembered his
words as my plane started its descent towards Delhi, so the word bamboozle was my one
preparation for the rich, noisy, functioning madness of India. I used the word on occasion,
and truth be told, it served me well. To a clerk at a train station I said, "I didn't think the
fare would be so expensive. You're not trying to bamboozle me, are you?" He smiled and
chanted, "No sir! There is no bamboozlement here. I have quoted you the correct fare."
This second time to India I knew better what to expect and I knew what I wanted: I would
settle in a hill station and write my novel. I had visions of myself sitting at a table on a
large veranda, my notes spread out in front of me next to a steaming cup of tea. Green
hills heavy with mists would lie at my feet and the shrill cries of monkeys would fill my
ears. The weather would be just right, requiring a light sweater mornings and evenings,
and something short-sleeved midday. Thus set up, pen in hand, for the sake of greater
truth, I would turn Portugal into a fiction. That's what fiction is about, isn't it, the
selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out its essence? What need
did I have to go to Portugal?
The lady who ran the place would tell me stories about the struggle to boot the British out.
We would agree on what I was to have for lunch and supper the next day. After my
writing day was over, I would go for walks in the rolling hills of the tea estates.
Unfortunately, the novel sputtered, coughed and died. It happened in Matheran, not far
from Bombay, a small hill station with some monkeys but no tea estates. It's a misery
peculiar to would-be writers. Your theme is good, as are your sentences. Your characters
are so ruddy with life they practically need birth certificates. The plot you've mapped out
for them is grand, simple and gripping. You've done your research, gathering the facts—
historical, social, climatic, culinary—that will give your story its
feel of authenticity. The
dialogue zips along, crackling with tension. The descriptions burst with colour, contrast
and telling detail. Really, your story can only be great. But it all adds up to nothing. In
spite of the obvious, shining promise of it, there comes a moment when you realize that
the whisper that has been pestering you all along from the back of your mind is speaking
the flat, awful truth: it won't work. An element is missing, that spark that brings to life a
real story, regardless of whether the history or the food is right. Your story is emotionally
dead, that's the crux of it. The discovery is something soul-destroying, I tell you. It leaves
you with an aching hunger.
From Matheran I mailed the notes of my failed novel. I mailed them to a fictitious
address in Siberia, with a return address, equally fictitious, in Bolivia. After the clerk had
stamped the envelope and thrown it into a sorting bin, I sat down, glum
"What now, Tolstoy? What other bright ideas do you have for your life?" I asked myself.
Well, I still had a little money and I was still feeling restless. I got up and walked out of
the post office to explore the south of India.
I would have liked to say, "I'm a doctor," to those who asked me what I did, doctors
being the current purveyors of magic and miracle. But I'm sure we would have had a bus
accident around the next bend, and with all eyes fixed on me I would have to explain,
amidst the crying and moaning of victims, that I meant in law; then, to their appeal to
help them sue the government over the mishap, I would have to confess that as a matter
of fact it was a Bachelor's in philosophy; next, to the shouts of what meaning such a
bloody tragedy could have, I would have to admit that I had hardly touched Kierkegaard;
and so on. I stuck to the humble, bruised truth.
Along the way, here and there, I got the response, "A writer? Is that so? I have a story for
you." Most times the stories were little more than anecdotes, short of breath and short of
I arrived in the town of Pondicherry, a tiny self-governing Union Territory south of
Madras, on the coast of Tamil Nadu. In population and size it is an inconsequent part of
India—by comparison, Prince Edward Island is a giant within Canada—but
set it apart. For Pondicherry was once the capital of that most modest of colonial empires,
French India. The French would have liked to rival the British, very much so, but the
only Raj they managed to get was a handful of small ports. They clung to these for nearly
three hundred years. They left Pondicherry in 1954, leaving behind nice white buildings,
broad streets at right angles to each other, street names such as rue de la Marine and rue
Saint-Louis, and kepis, caps, for the policemen.
I was at the Indian Coffee House, on Nehru Street. It's one big room with green walls and
a high ceiling. Fans whirl above you to keep the warm, humid air moving. The place is
furnished to capacity with identical square tables, each with its complement of four chairs.
You sit where you can, with whoever is at a table. The coffee is good and they serve
French toast. Conversation is easy to come by. And so, a spry, bright-eyed elderly man
with great shocks of pure white hair was talking to me. I confirmed to him that Canada
was cold and that French was indeed spoken in parts of it and that I liked India and so on
and so forth—the usual light talk between friendly, curious Indians
backpackers. He took in my line of work with a widening of the eyes and a nodding of
the head. It was time to go. I had my hand up, trying to catch my waiter's eye to get the
Then the elderly man said, "I have a story that will make you believe in God."
I stopped waving my hand. But I was suspicious. Was this a Jehovah's Witness knocking
at my door? "Does your story take place two thousand years ago in a remote corner of the
Roman Empire?" I asked.
Was he some sort of Muslim evangelist? "Does it take place in seventh-century Arabia?"
"No, no. It starts right here in Pondicherry just a few years back, and it ends, I am
delighted to tell you, in the very country you come from."
"And it will make me believe in God?"
"That's a tall order."
"Not so tall that you can't reach."
My waiter appeared. I hesitated for a moment. I ordered two coffees. We introduced
ourselves. His name was Francis Adirubasamy. "Please tell me your story," I said.
"You must pay proper attention," he replied.
"I will." I brought out pen and notepad.
"Tell me, have you been to the botanical garden?" he asked.
"I went yesterday."