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首页 » 英文科幻小说 » 少年派的奇幻漂流 Life of Pi » AUTHOR'S NOTE
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This book was born as I was hungry. Let me explain. Inthe spring of 1996, my second book, a novel, came out inCanada. It didn't fare well. Reviewers were puzzled, ordamned it with faint praise. Then readers ignored it.
Despite my best efforts at playing the clown or the trapezeartist, the media circus made no difference. The book didnot move. Books lined the shelves of bookstores like kidsstanding in a row to play baseball or soccer, and mine wasthe gangly, unathletic kid that no one wanted on theirteam. It vanished quickly and quietly.
The fiasco did not affect me too much. I had alreadymoved on to another story, a novel set in Portugal in 1939.
Only I was feeling restless. And I had a little money.
So I flew to Bombay. This is not so illogical if yourealize three things: that a stint in India will beat therestlessness out of any living creature; that a little moneycan go a long way there; and that a novel set in Portugalin 1939 may have very little to do with Portugal in 1939.
I had been to India before, in the north, for five months.
On that first trip I had come to the subcontinent completelyunprepared. Actually, I had a preparation of one word.
When I told a friend who knew the country well of mytravel plans, he said casually, "They speak a funny Englishin India. They like words like bamboozle." I remembered hiswords as my plane started its descent towards Delhi, so theword bamboozle was my one preparation for the rich, noisy,functioning madness of India. I used the word on occasion,and truth be told, it served me well. To a clerk at a trainstation I said, "I didn't think the fare would be soexpensive. You're, not trying to bamboozle me, are you?" Hesmiled and chanted, "No sir! There is no bamboozlementhere. I have quoted you the correct fare."This second time to India I knew better what to expectand I knew what I wanted: I would settle in a hill stationand write my novel. I had visions of myself sitting at atable on a large veranda, my notes spread out in front ofme next to a steaming cup of tea. Green hills heavy withmists would lie at my feet and the shrill cries of monkeyswould fill my ears. The weather would be just right,requiring a light sweater mornings and evenings, andsomething short-sleeved midday. Thus set up, pen in hand,for the sake of greater truth, I would turn Portugal into afiction. That's what fiction is about, isn't it, the selectivetransforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out itsessence? What need did I have to go to Portugal?
The lady who ran the place would tell me stories aboutthe struggle to boot the British out. We would agree onwhat I was to have for lunch and supper the next day.
After my writing day was over, I would go for walks inthe rolling hills of the tea estates.
Unfortunately, the novel sputtered, coughed and died. Ithappened in Matheran, not far from Bombay, a small hillstation with some monkeys but no tea estates. It's a miserypeculiar to would-be writers. Your theme is good, as areyour sentences. Your characters are so ruddy with life theypractically need birth certificates. The plot you've mappedout for them is grand, simple and gripping. You've doneyour research, gathering the facts – historical, social,climatic, culinary – that will give your story its feel ofauthenticity. The dialogue zips along, crackling with tension.
The descriptions burst with colour, contrast and tellingdetail. Really, your story can only be great. But it all addsup to nothing. In spite of the obvious, shining promise of it,there comes a moment when you realize that the whisperthat has been pestering you all along from the back ofyour mind is speaking the flat, awful truth: it won't work.
An element is missing, that spark that brings to life a realstory, regardless of whether the history or the food is right.
Your story is emotionally dead, that's the crux of it. Thediscovery is something soul-destroying, I tell you. It leavesyou with an aching hunger.
From Matheran I mailed the notes of my failed novel. Imailed them to a fictitious address in Siberia, with a returnaddress, equally fictitious, in Bolivia. After the clerk hadstamped the envelope and thrown it into a sorting bin, Isat down, glum and disheartened. "What now, Tolstoy?
What other bright ideas do you have for your life?" I askedmyself.
Well, I still had a little money and I was still feelingrestless. I got up and walked out of the post office toexplore the south of India.
I would have liked to say, "I'm a doctor," to those whoasked me what I did, doctors being the current purveyorsof magic and miracle. But I'm sure we would have had abus accident around the next bend, and ‘with all eyes fixedon me I would have to explain, amidst the crying andmoaning of victims, that I meant in law; then, to theirappeal to help them sue the government over the mishap, Iwould have to confess that as a matter of fact it was aBachelor's in philosophy; next, to the shouts of whatmeaning such a bloody tragedy could have, I would have toadmit that I had hardly touched Kierkegaard; and so on. Istuck to the humble, bruised truth.
Along the way, here and there, I got the response, "Awriter"? Is that so? I have a story for you." Most times thestones were little more than anecdotes, short of breath andshort of life.
I arrived in the town of Pondicherry, a tinyself-governing union Territory south of Madras, on thecoast of Tamil Nadu. In population and size it is aninconsequent part of India – by comparison, Prince EdwardIsland is a giant within Canada – but history has set itapart. For Pondicherry was once the capital of that mostmodest of colonial empires, French India. The French wouldhave liked to rival the British, very much so, but the onlyRaj they managed to get was a handful of small ports.
They clung to these for nearly three hundred years. Theyleft Pondicherry in 1954, leaving behind nice white buildings,broad streets at right angles to each other, street namessuch as rue de la Marine and rue Saint-Louis, and kepis,caps, for the policemen.
I was at the Indian Coffee House, on Nehru Street. It'sone big room with green walls and a high ceiling. Fanswhirl above you to keep the warm, humid air moving. Theplace is furnished to capacity with identical square tables,each with its complement of four chairs. You sit where youcan, with whoever is at a table. The coffee is good andthey serve French toast. Conversation is easy to come by.
And so, a spry, bright-eyed elderly man with great shocksof pure white hair was talking to me. I confirmed to himthat Canada was cold and that French was indeed spokenin parts of it and that I liked India and so on and soforth – the usual light talk between friendly, curious Indiansand foreign backpackers. He took in my line of work witha widening of the eyes and a nodding of the head. It wastime to go. I had my hand up, trying to catch my waiterseye to get the bill.
Then the elderly man said, "I have a story that willmake you believe in God."I stopped waving my hand. But I was suspicious. Wasthis a Jehovah's Witness knocking at my door? "Does yourstory take place two thousand years ago in a remote cornerof the Roman Empire?" I asked.
"No."Was he some sort of Muslim evangelist? "Does it takeplace in seventh-century Arabia?""No, no. It starts right here in Pondicherry just a fewyears back, and it ends, I am delighted to tell you, in thevery country you come from.""And it will make me believe in God?""Yes.""That's a tall order.""Not so tall that you can't reach."My waiter appeared. I hesitated for a moment. I orderedtwo coffees. We introduced ourselves. His name was FrancisAdirubasamy. "Please tell me your story," I said.
"You must pay proper attention," he replied.
"I will." I brought out pen and notepad.
"Tell me, have you been to the botanical garden?" heasked.
"I went yesterday.""Didyou notice the toy train tracks?""Yes, I did.""A train still runs on Sundays for the amusement of thechildren. But it used to run twice an hour every day. Didyou take note of the names of the stations?""One is called Roseville. It's right next to the rosegarden.""That's right. And the other?""I don't remember.""The sign was taken down. The other station was oncecalled Zootown. The toy train had two stops: Roseville andZootown. Once upon a time there was a zoo in thePondicherry Botanical Garden."He went on. I took notes, the elements of the story. "Youmust talk to him," he said, of the main character. "I knewhim very, very well. He's a grown man now. You must askhim all the questions you want."Later, in Toronto, among nine columns of Patels in thephone book, I found him, the main character. My heartpounded as I dialed his phone number. The voice thatanswered had an Indian lilt to its Canadian accent, lightbut unmistakable, like a trace of incense in the air. "Thatwas a very long time ago," he said. Yet he agreed to meet.
We met many times. He showed me the diary he keptduring the events. He showed me the yellowed newspaperclippings that made him briefly, obscurely famous. He toldme his story. All the while I took notes. Nearly a yearlater, after considerable difficulties, I received a tape and areport from the Japanese Ministry of Transport. It was as Ilistened to that tape that I agreed with Mr. Adirubasamythat this was, indeed, a story to make you believe in God.
It seemed natural that Mr. Patel's story should be toldmostly in the first person – in his voice and through hiseyes. But any inaccuracies or mistakes are mine.
I have a few people to thank. I am most obviouslyindebted to Mr. Patel. My gratitude to him is as boundlessas the Pacific Ocean and I hope that my telling of his taledoes not disappoint him. For getting me started on thestory, I have Mr. Adirubasamy to thank. For helping mecomplete it, I am grateful to three officials of exemplaryprofessionalism: Mr. Kazuhiko Oda, lately of the JapaneseEmbassy in Ottawa; Mr. Hiroshi Watanabe, of OikaShipping Company; and, especially, Mr. Tomohiro Okamoto,of the Japanese Ministry of Transport, now retired. As forthe spark of life, I owe it to Mr. Moacyr Scliar. Lastly, Iwould like to express my sincere gratitude to that greatinstitution, the Canada Council for the Arts, without whosegrant I could not have brought together this story that hasnothing to do with Portugal in 1939. If we, citizens, do notsupport our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination onthe altar of crude reality and we end up believing innothing and having worthless dreams.