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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 11:57 GMT
Booker winner in war of words
Yann Martel with his Booker-winning Life Of Pi
Yann Martel says writers traditionally borrow from others
Booker Prize-winner Yann Martel has found himself at the centre of a literary row after a Brazilian author accused him of borrowing heavily from one of his books for the award-winning Life Of Pi.

Martel's Life Of Pi won the 50,000 prize in October. It tells the tale of an Indian boy who is shipwrecked and has to share a lifeboat with a tiger.

But Moacyr Scliar claims Martel has abused his "intellectual property" in taking the ideas from his 1981 novella Max And The Cats and has considered taking legal action.

Canadian Martel admitted he was influenced by the Brazilian book, even though he had not read it and said he did not believe he needed to apologise.

Max And the Cats tells the story of a Jewish boy who is shipwrecked and has to share a lifeboat with a panther.

Life of Pi
Life Of Pi is about a boy and a tiger

"I saw a premise that I liked and I told my own story," Martel said, adding: "I don't feel I've done something dishonest."

But Martel also said it was an established tradition in the literary world for writers to draw inspiration from the works of others.

"Is an idea copyrightable? That's certainly not my feeling. What would be wrong is if I said it was my idea," Martel said.

An earlier comment made by Martel, one which he claims was misconstrued in the press, has added fuel to the fire.

'Solidarity'

In a piece on the internet site of Powell's City of Books, Martel said that a review of Scliar's novel by author John Updike in the New York Times had got him interested in the idea, even though the review seemed lukewarm.

He added that he had avoided the book because "why put up with a brilliant premise ruined by a lesser writer?".


It's unfortunate that now when Brazilian literature is being abundantly mentioned abroad, it is because of this bizarre incident

Moacyr Scliar

Martel denied he had meant to be insulting but Scliar said he was not only offended for himself but also for Brazilian culture as a whole.

"I've read dozens of emails from people offering their solidarity, people whose Brazilian pride was offended," he said.

"It's unfortunate that now when Brazilian literature is being abundantly mentioned abroad, it is because of this bizarre incident."

Scliar said he and his publishers had decided against taking legal action following Martel's recent attempts to calm the dispute.

Martel said he had written to Scliar's publisher to reiterate that he had not meant to belittle him.

He said he was willing to credit Scliar in a Brazilian edition of Life Of Pi, once he had found a publisher.

See also:

23 Oct 02 | Entertainment
23 Oct 02 | Entertainment
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