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"Of Books and Prime Ministers......''


About 18 months ago, Canadian author Yann Martel, likely best known for his Booker Prize-winning novel "Life of Pi" began an interesting project. Twice a month, he mails Prime Minister Stephen Harper a novel accompanied by a letter wherein Martel explains why he thinks that particular book is important.

Martel, who maintains a website for this project, has now sent the PM about 35 books whose topics are not only wide-ranging but fascinating in their diversity. "Animal Farm" by George Orwell is a recent and not surprising pick, given its political content. But other choices surprised me, including one of Agatha Christie's best-known and controversial mystery novels, "The Death of Roger Ackroyd." Published in 1926, it is reportedly one of her best (apparently, with a significant twist in the plot near the end) and I recently bought a copy to take on my trip to Italy next month (I like to travel with paperbacks, so I can leave them behind for other readers as I go.)


Martel's recommendations for Canada's very conservative prime minister also include Jane Austen's "The Watsons;" "Meditations," by Marcus Aurelius, Rome's emperor a century after Christ; Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis;" and more contemporary works including Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye," and Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird."

I especially like Martel's letter accompanying Emperor Aurelius's short work: " Dear Mr. Harper, Like you, Marcus Aurelius was a head of government. In AD 161, he became Roman Emperor, the last of the “five good emperors”—Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius—who ruled over an eighty-four-year period of peace and prosperity that lasted from AD 96 to 180, the Roman Empire’s golden apogee.

"The case of Rome is worth studying. How a small town on a river became the center of one of the mightiest empires the world has known, eventually dominating thousands of other small towns on rivers, is a source of many lessons. That Rome was mighty is not to be doubted. The sheer size the empire achieved is breathtaking: from the Firth of Forth to the Euphrates, from the Tagus to the Rhine, spilling over into Northern Africa, for a time the Romans ruled over most of the world known to them. What they didn’t rule over wasn’t worth having, they felt: they left what was beyond their frontiers to “barbarians”.

"Another measure of their greatness can be found in the Roman influences that continue to be felt to this day...Despite their power and might, another lesson about the Roman Empire forces itself upon us: how it’s all gone."

As yet, the PM hasn't responded to any of Martel's explanatory letters, which would be excellent background for any bookclub. The PMO did acknowledge receipt of the first novel sent.

BTW, Martel's site: http://www.whatisstephenharperreading.ca/ is available in both English and French, and my tutor tells me that Martel's writing in French is very good, with an extremely rich vocabulary. Despite many weeks of extensive tutoring, I'm still not a good judge of this, but I trust my tutor's judgement.

In any event, I thought Martel's Life of Pi was a wonderful novel, richly symbolic. I wonder what Richard Parker, one of the key characters in the novel, would make of Prime Minister Harper???

Comments (12)

This would assume that the prime minister would read anything but works of non-fiction . . .


...which is, of course, a pretty big assumption!

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, interesting post. I have not heard of Yarn Martel or of his book Life of Pi. Maybe I'll check it out one day. Meanwhile, I'll check out that link of his site that you posted. Thanks for the great read this morning.

Have a nice Sunday!


Very big, I'd say!

I thought Life of Pi was very imaginative and insightful. Thanks for the reminder of Martel's website. I must go see what he's sent since last I looked.

What an interesting post! I love that letter about Rome. I haven't read "Life of Pi" or any Agatha Christie - I'll put those on my list.

Wanted to tell you that after "Agata," I rented "Bread and Tulips" since it had been several years since I'd seen that one. I thoroughly enjoyed it (again) and it was fun seeing some of the same actors from "Agata." It was also nice to get a little Venice hit. :)

And after I posted that comment, I noticed that the counter is at 18 days!!!


Kathy, Life of Pi is a fun read; there`s a lot of depth to it, but it`s fun just the same.

Anne, it IS kind of hard to believe that the PM is the kind of guy who reads much fiction. And that`s too bad, I think there`s often far more to be learned from fiction than from non-fiction!

Annie, I, too, just watched Bread and Tulips again on the weekend. It really was fun, although I think I like Agata better. Still, the shots of Venice were wonderful to see! I recognized the Zattere (where I stayed the last time I was in Venice) from a few shots. And I wish we could have seen the Miracoli church -- I think the characters lived and worked right around the piazza there.

And yes, less than 3 weeks to go until my trip. This is a wonderful time -- when the trip is still ahead of me and I have something great to look forward to!

I have not read the Life of Pi yet but it has been on my wish list. I had forgotten about it recently. Thanks for the reminder.

Bread and Tulips was filmed right by the Miracoli church. My apartment was nearby where the florist shop was and the church was also close by.

18 days!!! As I wrote on Anne's blog, WOWEEE!!! The only reason why I am not wishing your departure date to arrive sooner is that I turn 49 two days before you leave and I am not ready to be 49!

Yes, the little flower shop was right behind the apse of the Miracoli. It's not there in real life though. I saw two shrines in the movie that I have photos of!

Brad'll Do It:

At least Martel can assume that his head of state CAN read. For us, I'm not so sure... Eighteen days 'til Italy according to your counter, and only five for us. Still wish we could get together, even tho' we're travellng with another couple. The closest to you that we are is Bologna, the nights of Sept 17 - 21; not sure where you are those dates, but if it's close, it's something to consider (if scheduled allow).


Girasoli, 49 is just a number!!!!! It doesn't mean anything! Mind you, I say that but I find I'm increasily drawn to movies like Agata and the Storm or Bread and Tulips because the heroine in both is a woman of a certain age who is clearly still beautiful and has interesting life!

Lucky you, staying so close to Miracoli -- I thought that it was such a gorgeous little church. I don't really remember the square it's in, although as Annie says, I guess the movie (like all movies) takes liberties with the location.

Annie, I'd love to see your photos of the shrines that also appeared in the movie. Maybe you could do a Bread and Tulips theme post!

Brad, I'll be in Umbria those dates which is a bit too far from Bologna for a GTG. Which is too bad -- it would have been such fun. We'll have to work on a plan for next year!

You must be down to only a handful of days until you and Palm return to italy, Yay!!!


Life of Pi has been on my radar for a while and this is a totally interesting project. But of course, Brad's comment should have come with a spew warning, he's right though, at least we're fairly sure your PM can read. Well, 142 days and either way, we won't have to worry about that any more too. :)

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