Life of Pi by Yann Martel

“Animals in the wild lead lives of compulsion and necessity within an unforgiving social hierarchy in an environment where the supply of fear is high and the supply of food is low and where the territory must be constantly defended and parasites forever endured.” – Life of Pi 

Life of Pi is an odd sort of novel that reads as an instruction guide for survival, zoo keeping, and religion. The novel is written as a first-person memoir with occasional interjections from Martel himself, and told as if the author was inspired to write the real Pi Patel’s true story of survival aboard a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger for 227 days. Ultimately, by the end of the novel the reader isn’t sure who to trust: the starving and delusional narrator, the unreliable Yann Martel, or statistically basic truths.

The book is broken into three sections. The first (after an author’s note alleging everything that follows is a real story) describes Pi Patel’s childhood growing up in India as the son of a zookeeper in the 1960s and 1970s. The second is the adventure of the novel, outlining how Pi’s family decides to move to Canada and sell their animals to zoos in America. Their cargo ship mysteriously sinks in the Pacific Ocean and everyone on board drowns except for Pi, a tiger, a zebra, an orangutan, and a hyena on a lone lifeboat. The third part of the novel is Pi and Richard Parker’s (the tiger’s anthropomorphic name) landfall in Mexico, where Pi is interviewed by Japanese delegates sent to find out what happened to the boat. Prompted by the men refusing to believe many aspects of his tale, Pi ultimately ends up telling two different stories of survival. Since Richard Parker escapes into the Mexican jungle before Pi is rescued by humans, he has no tangible proof of his outrageous ordeal.

Pi’s battle between Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam parallels the reader’s battle of what version of the story to believe. In the first part of the book, he describes how when he was fourteen years old he began practicing all three religions  (despite their conflicting pillars of thought) because he found beauty in each system of faith. By the end of the novel the reader wants to believe everything Pi says because its so fantastical and inspiring, and Pi succinctly explains “and so it goes with God” when the Japanese men want to believe the animal version of the story.

The novel has been adapted into a movie that will be released in November 2012.

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