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The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios Hardcover – December 1, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (December 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151010900
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151010905
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #938,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 Marler

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Winner of the 2002 Man Booker Prize for Fiction

Yann Martel, the son of diplomats, was born in Spain in 1963. He grew up in Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Alaska, and Canada and as an adult has spent time in Iran, Turkey, and India. After studying philosophy in college, he worked at various odd jobs until he began earning his living as a writer at the age of twenty-seven. He lives in Montreal.

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Baird VINE VOICE on December 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Yann Martel's Booker prize-winning 'Life of Pi' is a phenomenal book, and I have been eager to read something else by him ever since I finished it. I got my wish with this book, which is a re-printing of an earlier work of his. In the author's note Martel refers to its stories as his world premiere, harking back to the days when he was just starting out as a writer. He ambitiously set out to combine intellect and emotion in his stories, reasoning that intellect makes a story last while it is emotion that makes it relatable and appeals to the reader. It is easy to see Martel's developing genius in these stories, but there are unfortunate growing pains as well. In his quest to write stories both intelligent and stirring Martel did what most inexperienced writers will do: he over-reached. The stories are intellectual (at times inaccessably so), and there is plenty of emotion represented, but there is little heart. The lone exception is the titular story, about a man and his dying friend, who create a fictional family to tell stories about. It's a brilliant story, executed as only the author of a book like 'Life of Pi' could do. 'The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American composer John Morton' really could have done with a shorter title, but is almost up to Martel's standard. It's too long; the description of the concert itself could have been shorter as that part is boring, and the real meat of the story gets crammed into the somewhat illogical events of the last few pages. The meat, once you've gotten to it, is quite juicy actually. The payoff saves the story, but the same can't be said of 'Manners of Dying' -- which has an interesting premise but leads nowhere. It's high-concept writing that misses the mark.Read more ›
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Louis N. Gruber VINE VOICE on January 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Yann Martel, author of the best-selling Life of Pi, here offers some of his earlier work--four short stories which do not exactly fit the short story mold.

The first story, same name as the collection's title, is an extended meditation on dying. As the young narrator struggles with his friend's terminal illness, the two men embark on a project to pass the time and keep up their spirits. They decide to write a novel about an imaginary family--the Roccamatios of Helsinki, whose lives parallel, year by year, the years of the twentieth century. We are not told much about this novel or its characters. The writing, the research, the assembling of facts about the twentieth century, are used to highlight the illness and death of the friend.

Also included are a story about a Viet Nam veteran, a talented but unrecognized composer who struggles with the meaning of life while working as a night custodian in a bank. And a composition about the night a young man is hanged (for some unnamed crime), the story told in multiple variations, over and over. The book concludes with a strange tale of an old machine that makes mirrors out of memories. And about the importance of memory itself.

Author Yann Martel does not shrink from the extreme and unusual. After all, he wrote the novel about a young man in a lifeboat with a tiger, and made it almost believable. The stories in this small collection are similarly over-the-edge. They are well written, clever, almost too clever. For me the author allows his cleverness and his mastery of the language to overshadow the characters. The stories are not meant to be literally believeable, but, in the end, they are not emotionally believable either.

Still, these stories are well worth reading. If you liked the Life of Pi you will love the Roccamatios as well. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By madhu m on October 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
yann martel renowned for his booker prize winning life of pi, started off his publishing career with this colelction of short stories/novellas. the stories range from the sublime, to the sad to the silly covering a wide-ranging set of topics from death, to inspiration to music to memory.

while the stories are well written they sometimes lack in ideas, however martel's steady prose and studied observations make them a fast read. while these 4 stories will make do for a quiet evening, it is interesting to read an author who is still working at mastering his craft.

more novelty than genius.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dan on May 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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.
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