Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Title: Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
Genre: fiction
ISBN: 9780156030205
Pages: 401
Year Published: 2001
Source: personal collection
Rating: 4/5
Reason for Reading: I’ve owned it almost 2 years and not cracked it; Canadian Author Challenge
Award(s): 2003 Boeke Prize (South Africa)
Challenge(s): Canadian Author Challenge

Description from back of book:

When sixteen-year-old Pi Patel finds himself stranded in a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with only a menacing 450-pound Bengal tiger for company, he quickly realizes that the only way he will survive is if he makes sure the tiger is more afraid of him than he is of it. Finding strength within himself, he draws upon all he knowledge and cunning, battles for food and shelter, overcomes storms and disasters, and, in the end, makes a peace of sorts with both tiger and ocean.

I really dislike this description, to be quite honest with everyone. There is so much that it leaves out which could make people more interested. For example:

  • Not only does Pi deal with a Bengal tiger, but: a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and various other aquatic life in the Pacific.
  • Part of the story takes place before Pi’s 227-day stint in a lifeboat, in which we learn about Pi’s family, education, and religious beliefs (he manages to be a practicing Hindu, Muslim, and Christain).
  • You will come away from this book wondering if any of it is actually possible, even if it is a work of fiction.

The whole novel is a sort of autobiography, as recorded by another person to whom Pi Patel relates his life after this ordeal. Seeing as Pi was only 16 when this daunting journey took place, it can hardly be called the “Life” of Pi, but rather the “Crazy 227-day Lifeboat Journey” of Pi. Anyway, this journey of Pi was so interesting! I was hooked for large chunks of the book, as I am never able to read books in one sitting. But I could hardly put it down, especially when Pi recounts his time at sea and shortly thereafter.

As I mentioned before, some of the story seems believable. But some of it just sounds too weird. I mean, how likely is it that, stranded God knows where in the Pacific Ocean, you will bump into another human, also stranded, who tries to kill you? How likely is it that you will come upon a floating island that is purely botanical, save for the meerkats, and carnivorous when the sun disappears? Oh and not to mention the whole 227 days with the tiger.

However, this novel did remind me, in few ways, of The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Technically speaking SoaSS is a work of non-fiction, which might account for the fact that it was utterly BORING. At least to me. And this sailor was only stranded for 10 days! I was a little worried when I started Life of Pi that it was going to be boring, like SoaSS. How glad I was to be wrong!! I don’t know what was so interesting about it. Pi caught fish and the like for food, read a survivor’s manual, attempted to train Richard Parker (that’s the Bengal tiger) and just floated about for much of it. But it was the way Martel told the story of Pi that made it so much more interesting. I really enjoyed Martel’s storytelling.

Along with that note, Michelle at My Books. My Life. wrote a review of Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil that was published this year. I now want to read it very much. So I have added it to my ever growing TBR list 🙂

And now, I have included some of my favorite quotes and passages from Life of Pi for your enjoyment and my own records.

“‘God is universal,’ spluttered the priest.
The imam nodded strong approval. ‘There is only one God.’
‘And with their one god Muslims are always causing troubles and provoking riots. The proof of how bad Islam is, is how uncivilized Muslims are,’ pronounced the pandit.
‘Says the slave-driver of the caste system,’ huffed the imam. ‘Hindus enslave people and worship dressed-up dolls.’
‘They are golden calf lovers. They kneel before cows,’ the priest chimed in.
‘While Christians kneel before a white man! They are the flunkies of a foreign god. They are the nightmare of all non-white people.’
‘And they eat pigs and are cannibals,’ added the imam for good measure.
‘What it comes down to,’ the priest put out with cool rage, ‘is whether Piscine wants real religion–or myths from a cartoon strip.’
‘God–or idols,’ intoned the imam gravely.
‘Our gods–or colonial gods,’ hissed the pandit…
The pandit spoke first. ‘Mr. Patel, Piscine’s piety is admirable. In these troubled times it’s good to see a boy so keen on God. We all agree on that.’ The imam and the priest nodded. ‘But he can’t be a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim. It’s impossible. He must choose.'” (p.86-87)

“To lose a brother is to lose someone with whom you can share the experience of growing old, who is supposed to bring you a sister-in-law and nieces and nephews, creatures to people the tree of your life and give it new branches. To lose your father is to lose the one whose guidance and help you seek, who supports you like a tree trunk supports its branches. To lose your mother, well, that is like losing the sun above you.” (p.160)

“I had to stop hoping so much that a ship would rescue me. I should not count on outside help. Survival had to start with me. In my experience, a castaway’s worst mistake is to hope too much and do too little. Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate. To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one’s life away.” (p.212)

“‘If you stumble at mere believeability, what are you living for? Isn’t love hard to believe?’
‘Mr. Patel–‘
‘Don’t bully me with your politeness! Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?’ (p.375)

‘Doesn’t the telling of something always become a story?’ (p.380)


2 thoughts on “Life of Pi by Yann Martel

  1. I must be one of the last people not to have read Life of Pi yet, but it is on my wishlist so I look forward to getting to it soon. Your quote about ‘hoping’ really rings true for me.

    PS: Hope you enjoy your holiday.

  2. […] Life of Pi by Yann Martel (post about this here) […]

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