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The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatiosby Yann Martel
Synopses & Reviews
Here are four unforgettable stories by the author of Life of Pi. In the exquisite title novella, a very young man dying of AIDS joins his friend in fashioning a story of the Roccamatio family of Helsinki, set against the yearly march of the twentieth century whose horrors and miracles their story echoes. In "The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American composer John Morton," a Canadian university student visits Washington, D.C., and experiences the Vietnam War and its aftermath through an intense musical encounter. In "Manners of Dying," variations of a warden's letter to the mother of a son he has just executed reveal how each life is contained in its end. The final story, "The Challenges of Science," chronicles how when fantasy and reality meet, even one of the great minds of science is confounded.
Written earlier in Martel's career, these tales are as moving as they are thought-provoking, as inventive in form as they are timeless in content. They display that startling mix of dazzle and depth that have made Yann Martel an international phenomenon.
"Pathos is leavened with inventiveness and humor in this collection of a novella and three short stories first published in a slightly different version in Canada in 1993, nearly 10 years before Martel's Booker-winning Life of Pi. The minor key is established in the title novella, a graceful, multilayered story of a young man dying of AIDS, told through the refracting lens of the history of the 20th century. Infected by a blood transfusion, Paul receives the diagnosis during his freshman year of college. The narrator, Paul's student mentor, devises a plan to keep Paul engaged in life — they will invent the story of the Roccamatio family of Helsinki, which will have 100 chapters, each thematically linked to an event of the 20th century. The connection between the history, the stories and Paul's condition is subtle and always shifting, as fluid and elusive as life itself. The experience of death is delicately probed in the next two stories as well: in one, a Canadian student's life is changed when he hears the Rankin Concerto, written in honor of a Vietnam veteran; in the other, a prison warden reports to a mother on her son's last moments before he is executed. The book closes with a surreal fable in which mirrors are made from memories. These are exemplary works of apprenticeship, slight yet richly satisfying. Agent, Jackie Kaiser." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Having delivered a nail-biting narrative with Life of Pi, Martel chooses not to repeat himself, here offering four meditative stories that test the limits of the form....Elusive and thought-provoking." Library Journal
"If you are fond of theories such as deconstructionism and reader response, you will enjoy The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, for the multiple plots and many possible interpretations of its stories will allow you to deconstruct and rearrange to your heart's content, and any reader should enjoy the excellent characterization and crisp dialogue." Chicago Sun-Times
"It's the perfect gift for the person who would appreciate the literary equivalent of tickets to the Cirque du Soleil. Each of these stories is a performance, a high-wire act in which the author sets himself an unusual challenge and dazzles us as he pulls it off." Washington Post
Written earlier in Martel's career, these four unforgettable tales are as moving as they are thought-provoking, as inventive in form as they are timeless.
About the Author
Yann Martel is the Man Booker Prize-winning author of Life of Pi. When he stays put, he lives in Montreal.
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