Yann Martel catapulted to fame with his extraordinary tale – The Life of Pi. In The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios Martel digs into his early works and presents us with four short stories, written before the Life of Pi. Of the four stories, the first two were for me the most memorable. The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios is a story of a young man helping his college friend as he struggles with and ultimately succumbs to AIDS. The two men meet often over several months and collaboratively create a story, whose narrative line loosely follows the major events of the 20th century, starting with 1901.
The second story, The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton, is about a man’s chance encounter with the extraordinary music of an unknown composer, a Vietnam vet who works the night shift at a bank as a janitor. Both stories demonstrate Martel’s skill with prose and gift as a storyteller.
Martel’s author’s note in the beginning of the book is worth a read. In it he details his years of failed attempts at writing. I have a writer friend who once told me that in order to be a good writer, one must be willing to be a bad writer. Clearly this is what happened with Martel. Thank goodness he had parents who didn’t push him into being something he wasn’t, but supported him even when he wasn’t producing results. Martel spent much of his early years learning and exploring, building the palette of experiences he could draw upon for his fiction.
If you loved Life of Pi, you will very likely enjoy this small collection of stories.