Yann Martel - Life Of Pi

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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

    can't dismiss

    outright. Life of Pi is in this traditiona 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 survivala boys'

    adventure for

    grownups." Margaret Atwood, The Sunday Times (London)

"A fabulous romp through an imagination by turns ecstatic, cunning,

    despairing and

    resilient, this novel is an impressive achievement. . . . Martel displays

    the clever voice

    and tremendous storytelling skills of an emerging master." Publisher's

    Weekly (starred


"[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

    hilarious, internal

    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

    X Press

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life of pi


author's note

    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?

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    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, culinarythat 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

and disheartened.

    "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

    Indiaby comparison, Prince Edward Island is a giant within Canadabut

    history has

    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,

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    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 forththe usual light talk between friendly, curious Indians

    and foreign

    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."

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