Eric's Reviews > The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios

The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel
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's review
Jan 30, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: short-fiction, something-to-ponder

A collection of short fiction by Yann Martel.

In “The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios”, a novella of about 85 pages, the main character describes how he touches the life of his friend (Paul) dying of AIDS. Together they write stories based on historical facts from each year of the 20th century. I wanted to know more about the story within the story, the story that they wrote together, but that wasn’t what it was about. It was about the tragedy of the young man’s early death. It is fitting that the stories they create are absent. It leaves the impression of things left undone or incomplete; the same way Paul’s life is cut short.

The title of the next story is “The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton.” If that title doesn’t catch your interest then I don’t know what will. Or maybe you just don’t have an interest in contemporary orchestral music, but in any case it caught my interest. I wanted to be there to hear that music. What does a concerto sound like with an intentionally discordant violin? I’m still dying to know. Reading the story just made me want to hear it more. It’s really too bad because I did a Google search on “Concerto with one discordant violin” and I couldn’t find any real concertos. If it’s not on Google you know it doesn’t exist.

“Manners of Dying” is a collection of alternate letters from the warden of a prison to the mother of a man executed for his crimes. Each letter presents an alternate version of how the man faced his punishment.

The final story, “The Vita Aeterna Mirror Company: Mirrors to Last Till Kingdom Come” is told in a type of stream-of consciousness style. And the most common word in this story is “blah”. I’m not making that up.

Perhaps there is something about the brevity of these stories, the compressed format, that both touches me and bothers me. There is so much more I want to get out of them, but it is precisely because they are so short that they are so potent – all superfluous details have been left out. In all of these stories Martel is trying to deal with Big Things. Death. AIDS. Memories. Art. Music. Dreams fulfilled. Dreams wasted. The fact that these stories are short doesn’t diminish them – it enhances them.
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Debbydawn Loved the book, and your thoughtful review!

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