Root Of 'Pi'
Good writers borrow, great writers steal, and Man Booker Prize-winning writers are influenced by books they haven’t even read. On Oct. 22, Yann Martel, the Canadian author of Life of Pi, won the literary award most coveted (for both its prestige and its international sales influence) by Commonwealth writers. Six days later, Martel calls from Berlin to say that his second novel — set on a lifeboat, exploring the bond between a zookeeper’s son and a Bengal tiger — was inspired by a review of a book by the Brazilian writer Moacyr Scliar.
”It’s called Max and the Cats,” Martel says. ”Or is it His Cats?… There’s a part of the novel where a Jewish man ends up in a lifeboat with a jaguar — an allegory on the Holocaust. I guess [the reviewer] didn’t like the book. I didn’t quite sense why. Anyway, the premise stayed in my mind.” Years later, in 1996, the writer was outside Bombay when the idea resurfaced: ”India’s a place full of religion and full of animals, and they just sort of coalesced in my mind.”
Martel went to India to backpack and to Berlin to teach a university course on animals in literature. (How’s school? ”It’s all right…. I’m not an academic. My knowledge of things is extensive, but it’s intuitive.”) Born in Spain into a diplomat’s family, the 39-year-old ”lives” in Montreal, but nomadicism is his MO; Mexico City and Saskatoon are next on the list. Which is partly why he dreads a question frequently asked of him since he topped such short-listed bigwigs as William Trevor and Carol Shields to take the 50,000[pounds] prize: ”’What are you gonna do with the money?’ I don’t know. I’m not a materialist. I live a pretty Zen lifestyle…. I give them this convoluted answer where I don’t like owning stuff ’cause my parents have never really owned a house, so I don’t want to own real estate ’cause I’m afraid I’ll start obsessing about cracks in the walls.” Isn’t Moacyr Scliar due for a cut?
Life of Pi