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 Mirror Machine", is about a young man who discovers an antique mirror-making machine in his grandmother's attic. The man's fascination with the object is juxtaposed with the longwinded reminiscences it evokes from his grandmother.
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.
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Given the spectacular success of Canadian writer Yann Martel's bestselling novel Life of Pi (winner of the 2002 Man Booker Prize and Amazon.com's Best Book of 2002) it's no surprise that his early short story collection, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, would attract new readers. Originally published in 1993, these four well-crafted stories have been slightly revised by him for this new edition (the book's first publication in America). Only one of these stories, "Manners of Dying," reads like apprentice work, but even this piece is highly accomplished and full of interest. Every page here shows the development of Martel's stealthy, understated prose (think Paul Auster with a Canadian quietude). In fact, the title story begins so calmly and matter-of-factly that the opening pages feel almost listless. A college senior describes his budding friendship with the freshman he has been assigned to shepherd through the first months of the school year. When the new friend is diagnosed with AIDSs (it is the mid-1980s, and this is a more-or-less immediate death sentence) the emotional stakes gradually increase, not only in predictable ways, as the reluctant narrator is drawn further into his friend's life, but in the jokes, arguments, and revelations brought to light by their collaboration in a sparkling intellectual game--a story the friends write together, in alternating turns--that provides a delicate scaffold for the private drama of death. --Regina MarlerFrom the Back Cover:
"Yann Martel's new, strong voice weaves together our smallest anxieties and memories with the sentences and executions passed upon all of us by war, crime, and life. AIDS is blended into the lunacy of history. Violins into the Vietnam war. Variations on a warden's letter to the mother of a son he has just hanged are laid out as in a manual of etiquette. Martel has that rare talent of making fiction true and thus painful yet compelling." -- John Ralston Saul
"'The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios' is a story of extreme youth and death, and I find it hard to describe just how moving it is.... When I finished reading it, I telephoned a friend, wanting company, but found that I was incoherent; I simply couldn't tell her what had happened to me.... It is one of the strange things about art that what devastates us also in some way heals us, or at least leads us to where we need to go." -- Merna Summers, Canadian Forum
"Many of Yann Martel's stories have fantastical curves...turns of magical possibility that evoke Calvino or Borges." -- Kingston Whig Standard
"Those who would believe that the art of fiction is moribund... let them read Yann Martel with astonishment, delight and gratitude." -- Alberto Manguel
"A brilliant debut. Few works of fiction have moved me as much as 'The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios'. Yann Martel is a young wizard." -- Leon Rooke
Yann Martel's brilliant storytelling... shines brightly." -- The Globe and Mail
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