Thursday, 10 January 2013

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

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 Title - Life of Pi

Author - Yann Matel

Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel - known as Pi - has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practice three religions - Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.

But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen, his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest of traveling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker’s next meal.


After several days stranded at sea with Pi Patel I finally finished this book and what a feet it is too, not because the story is unbearable but because it is leaden with so much life and ideas it is hard to digest. The first half of the story takes place in India where young Pi Patel battles with the need to love God in every religion that he shows himself in. As anyone from this social construct of our society would tell you being religion is a somewhat exclusive club, anyone can join but only one religion at a time. Young Pi who sates that ‘’I just want to love God’’ attempts the somewhat unconventional method of practicing Hinduism, Christianity and Islam all at the same time.

While Pi had grounded himself in religion the story is not preachy or in any way trying to sell religion for those of us that have no interest in it rather is shows the face of the most practiced religions as well as a scientific voice in the form of Mr Kumar, the science teacher. This book explores fundamental human behaviour from our belief in God to our rank in the overall tree of life. Are we predators because we have a mental capability unlike any other animal on earth or does the fact that even the strongest of us can be easily killed by something as gentle as the fruit eating Orangutans. Pi also shows a rather confronting and factual look into human cruelty especially when it came to zoo animals which as a somewhat sane member of society, I found rather uncomfortable and a little hard to bare.

I realise midway through the second part of the book that confronting and uncomfortable were a reoccurring theme in the book. Pi having been stranded at sea for quite some time has lost the façade of human civility so much so that he attempted to eat Tiger faeces in order to survive. I was not uncomfortable with this scene because it was fundamentally disgusting but because Martel has a way of forcing the reader to contextualise, in my mind I replaced myself with Pi and found the end image rather hard to face for it had hard hitting facts about human nature.

The second half of the book was simpler than the second but only in the sense that while Pi was in the safety of his home he was free to contemplate life and its meaning, a rather daunting task but in the wild there was only one thing on the mind and that was survival. When faced with extinction the human brain forces us to return to the days of raw meat and even the occasional cannibalism. Yes, Pi however unintentional ate and used as bate a fellow human being.

The final part of the book takes place after Pi reaches Mexico. After surviving cannibalistic algae it was a rather refreshing sight however Martel once again forces you into yet another uncomfortable and rather hideous version of the story where the animals were replaced by humans. Suddenly there the moral excuse of being ‘’dumb animals’’ is no longer valid until you were left starting once again at the tip of human cruelty.

Personally I would like to believe that a 16 year old survived 227 days at sea rather than the savagery portrayed by the human counterpart and from the existence of this story so does Pi.

In hindsight I realise how amazingly clever this book is, it is beautifully written and at times hard to digest. It makes me wonder how a book of this of this magnitude could stay unnoticed for so long.

Overall I give this book 5 out of 5 and a full recommendation for anyone who wants to live through a psychological adventure as well as a physical one.

Now I am off to watch the movie and hope that Hollywood has not destroyed the soul of this book. Somebody please hide my cynicism.
Product Details
Paperback: 460 pages
Publisher: Canongate Books
Language: English
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this a brilliant review of the book, you've got a new follower! I completely agree with you, sometimes the events in the book are hard to deal with. I've seen the film and I think they did do it justice, even if they did change a few things - for example, in the film he doesn't come across another man at sea. I would like to believe the tiger version too! I've reviewed the book at