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English gives me sufficient distance to write: ‘Life of Pi’ author

Jaipur, Jan 27 (IANS) Spanish-born Canadian author Yann Martel, best known for the Man Booker Prize-winning novel “Life of Pi” which was also adapted on screen to critical acclaim, on Sunday said that although he feels in French, he is able to think more accurately in English.

“I feel in French, but think more accurately in English… It was by happenstance that I got caught up in a maelstrom of languages. English gives me a sufficient distance to write,” Martel said here at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival.

The author hailed English for the strength that it draws from its plasticity, saying that “there is no one English but ‘Englishes’ across the world”.

“Maths is another system of language — numbers are words, equations are sentences,” interjected Indian poet-writer Jerry Pinto, who was in conversation with Martel.

Pinto asked the “Life of Pi” author if he juggled numbers as much as he did languages.

For Martel, however, “Life of Pi” had more to do with meaning than mathematics.

“It mattered to me that things be significant,” he said.

Unlike writers Andre Acimanand, Michael Ondaatje, who confess to writing without knowing how their books will end, Martel’s said that his approach is highly structured, which allows him to employ the meaningful devices of his choosing and play with them.

“Pi is an irrational number. Religion is slightly irrational. Yet both help us make sense of the world,” he said.

Piscine Patel, the “Pi” in “Life of Pi”, is named after a swimming pool — which has a rectangular and rational shape. However, he later finds himself in the middle of the ocean — an irrationally shaped body, explained Martel.

Martel’s work is replete with such symbolic flourishes.

“Every book I write is a conscious attempt to understand some issue… ‘Life of Pi’ was an attempt to understand this curious phenomenon called faith.”

He said what struck him about religion was the power of its “magical thinking” to bring about change, and its continued importance in an era of technological triumph. Martel also drew a significant commonality between religion and novels, saying “both make you suspend disbelief.”




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