Jacob's Reviews > The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios

The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel
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Aug 28, 11

bookshelves: short-fiction, 2010-2011, culling-the-herd
Read from August 25 to 28, 2011

"The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios"
The narrator and his friend, Paul, an AIDS patient, spend Paul's last few months constructing an elaborate story about an Italian family in Helsinki and their lives throughout the Twentieth Century--elaborate, but ultimately unfinished.

"The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton"
The narrator, visiting a friend in D.C., attends a concert of Vietnam War veterans in a ruined theater, and hears a musical piece that changes his life.

"Manners of Dying"
Nine letters, all from the warden of Correctional Institute to the mother of Kevin Barlow, each varying in the details of the twelve hours up to and during Kevin's execution by hanging. Each time, Kevin accepts or refuses religious counsel, eats decadent or strange last meals or nothing at all, spends the night sleeping or awake, and faces his execution bravely, cowardly, stoically, or not at all. Each letter is numbered, suggesting thousands more unpublished and unread variations on the events.

"The Via Aeterna Mirror Company: Mirrors to Last till Kingdom Come"
While searching his grandmother's cluttered house for a pair of moccasins, the narrator comes across an old mirror-making machine that runs on memories--but he ignores most of his grandmother's monologue, a story about her marriage to the narrator's grandfather, and doesn't notice the magic until it ends.

The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel
I read Life of Pi almost ten years ago, long enough to forget everything but the basic story (and how I wish I had kept a reading log back then!), so I didn't really think of this as "a short story collection from the author of Life of Pi." But I kept coming across it in the usual places--library sales, used bookstores, clearance shelves--that I was interested, a bit intrigued, and slightly put off by the title. I mean, how could stories titled "The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios" and "The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton" not be pretentious? But whatever. Recently came across a nice copy at a library sale, bought it, read it--

Loved it.

These are great stories. Not perfect, of course, but well-written and powerful. I could probably point out enough flaws to justify giving this collection four stars, but I've given out too many four-star ratings lately, and this feels like it deserves five. So five it is.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Jacob J. (new)

Jacob J. Life of Pi is one of those novels that fell into my hands at the exact time I needed it. If I didn't have so many books to get to, I would revisit it at least once a year.

I haven't gotten to this one yet, and I know it was plagued by faint praise when it was first published, but this review elevates it to a necessity.


Machel dead on review. excellent so far!


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