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How “Life of Pi” anticipated 9/11


PERHAPS THE BIGGEST SURPRISE at the 2013 Oscar ceremony was that Ang Lee beat out Steven Spielberg for Best Director with his adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi. Martel’s novel was itself a surprising Man Booker Prize award winner in 2002. You may remember that a controversy followed: according to some, Martel’s book, about a boy in a lifeboat with a tiger, was suspiciously similar to that of Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar’s 1981 novella Max and the Cats, about a man in a lifeboat with a jaguar. In a short essay titled “How I Wrote Life of Pi,” Martel has accounted for the influence that Scliar’s novel — or rather, what he recalls as John Updike’s negative review of the novel in The New York Times Book Review — had on him. (In fact, Updike never seems to have reviewed the book at all, and the only review that ran in The Times was positive.) Martel — who claims he only read Max and the Cats after the accusations of plagiarism surfaced in 2002 — borrowed Scliar’s basic premise, trying to turn it into a novel that was more successful than the one Updike had allegedly reviewed:

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