March 3, Tennessean, Richel Albright
A line stretched down a hall in the Nashville Public Library on Saturday afternoon leading to an auditorium where approximately 425 people patiently waited for “Life of Pi” author Yann Martel to take the stage.
Martel helped kick off the citywide Nashville Reads movement, which is in its second year and will run through April 13, by discussing his beloved, award-winning novel-turned-Academy-Award-winning major motion picture.
Mayor Karl Dean, who introduced the author, told the capacity crowd that “Life of Pi” is a “perfect choice” for a book to get the city reading together.
Martel explained how his original plan to write a book set in Portugal in 1939 failed, and he found himself in India without a plan.
“For the first time in my life, I opened myself up to two things: animals and religion,” said Martel, who explained he had grown up in a house where religion was discussed in “anthropological terms.”
“I discovered, when I got to India, I was tired of being reasonable. What this excessive use of rationalism was doing was wiping away any kind of magical thinking in my life,” he said.
He said his sense of rationalism made him lose his appreciation for art.
“To read literature is a wonderful way to be someone else, somewhere else,” he added.
Martel said his novels were his way of trying to understand things, and this was his attempt to understand faith and religion.
“I was intrigued to look at the nonjudgmental kind of faith,” Martel said. “At the same time, I noticed the presence of animals in Hinduism.”
He explained that for the character of Richard Parker, the 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger that accompanied Pi on the lifeboat, he originally wanted the animal to be an elephant, then he considered a rhinoceros before finally settling on a tiger.
“It was there right at the start, this idea of telling a story of a boy in a lifeboat with an animal,” he said.
Film was never a goal
Martel said seeing “Life of Pi” turned into a movie was never a goal for him, but cinema has always been a love of his.
“It was a slow boil,” he said of the book-to-movie process, in which he had little involvement. “Once Ang Lee got on board, it all started happening.”
Martel joked that even though he was the first to be thanked in Ang Lee’s acceptance speech after Lee won the Oscar for best director, he didn’t get an invite to last week’s Academy Awards.
While Martel’s “Life of Pi” has become a wild success, the novel he initially set out to India for is near completion and he hopes to have a first draft finished by the end of summer.
“I’ve finally figured out how to tell the story, and it’s just flying out of my computer,” he said. “(Our) baby is due in April, so if it’s a screamer I’ll never sleep and it won’t get finished until the end of the year.”