Title: Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
No. of Pages: 319
First Released: 2001
Synopsis (Courtesy of Joseph-Beth Booksellers): “ The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes.
The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them “the truth.” After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional–but is it more true?”
Comments and Critique: While Mr. Martel has been making waves with his latest release, I finally took the time to read his most famous work, the one for which he earned the Booker Prize. Now that I have finished it, I can honestly say that Life of Pi is worth every accolade it received. This unbelievably fantastic story has so many layers, I have only begun to unravel them all.
The writing is amazing – crisp and clean, every word carefully chosen for maximum impact. The effect is a story that comes alive with no extraneous verbiage. Mr. Mantel provokes the reader’s senses with these well-chosen words. Pi’s terror/ despair/ joy/ innocence becomes the reader’s terror/ despair/ joy/ innocence. The reader can smell the salt air, feel the wind, hear the growls of Richard Parker, see the unending horizon of ocean, and taste the deliciousness that is water when one is dehydrated. Life of Pi is not just a reading pleasure, it becomes an adventure of the senses.
The story itself forces the reader to make his or her own conclusions about religion and about life. Pi’s curiosity and unique life perspective is humbling in its simple message of coexistence, with nature and among the various religions. Does Life of Pi make you believe in God, as the narrator suggests? I believe it depends on the individual reader, how faith-driven he or she already is. For me, I remain undecided as to whether God helped keep him alive or if it was his own doing, for I was taught that God helps those who help themselves. No matter what I finally end up believing, I remain in awe of Pi’s perserverence. Is is superhuman or the fight or flight instinct that helps him survive?
Two weeks after finishing the book, many questions still remain. Are humans really better than animals? Which of Pi’s stories should we believe? Does it matter in the end? Should it matter? Because of this ambiguity, I remain entranced with Pi and his story. There is plenty of food for thought, which I firmly believe is a sign of an excellent book. Answers should never be easy, for we as a society do not learn from the easy answers. In Life of Pi, Mr. Martel provides plenty of questions about life, about religion, about human’s place in the world, and about socitey, with very little answers. Finding those answers is part of the enjoyment of the novel. The other part is just sitting back and experiencing Pi’s story.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is one of the few books that had me exclaiming aloud, gasping in fear, and other various verbal outbursts. Upon finishing, I thrust it into my husband’s hands, demanding that he read it immediately. I only regret I had not read Life of Pi earlier.
This books meets the requirements of the 100+ Reading Challenge, the Read ‘n Review Challenge, and, because my kids chose this book for me to read, the Random Reads Challenge. I purchased this with my own money and do not regret it a bit!