Life of Pi
By Yann Martel
Mariner Books May 2003
From the library
From the library
Piscine “Pi” Patel is a young man living in India with his parents and brother. His days consist of roaming around his father’s zoo and exploring his beliefs about God in his local church, mosque, and temple. When the economy changes for the worse, the Patel family leaves India to start over in Canada. But the ship they are traveling on sinks and Pi is the only human survivor. However, he is not alone. He is joined in the lifeboat by a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
The beginning section of the novel is perhaps rambling, but it is delightful. Pi fills the reader in on his acquired knowledge about the animal kingdom and the strange ways in which different species interact. He also shares his attempts to learn about God through the Christian, Muslim, and Hindu faiths (all at the same time). His abject terror as the priest, imam, and the pandit converge on him at once is one of the best moments in the book.
Once disaster strikes, the reader is in for the long haul with Pi and his animal companions. I thought Mr. Mantel did a good job with this portion of the novel. While it could have been very boring to have someone abandoned at sea for so long, I was eager to continue turning pages to find out what would happen next. Much of this is due to Pi’s personality. He is resilient in the face of everything that he has gone through.
“Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher. Physically it is extraordinarily arduous, and morally it is killing. You must make adjustments if you want to survive. Much becomes expendable. You get your happiness where you can. You reach a point where you’re at the bottom of hell, yet you have your arms crossed and a smile on your face, and you feel you’re the luckiest person on earth. Why? Because at your feet you have a tiny dead fish.”
The ending of the novel is something that people have strong opinions about. Not wanting to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it, I will just say that personally I wasn’t bothered by it. I found it in sync with the rest of the novel and the questions of story and narrative that Mantel has woven throughout the book.
I really enjoyed reading Life of Pi. Although this is classified as adult fiction, I think it could just as easily be a YA novel. Pi is a teenager, although his concerns (a giant tiger, dying of dehydration, his lifeboat capsizing) are slightly different than most kids his age. Pi Patel is such a great character and the themes explored in the novel – humanity, compassion, faith, and the purpose and form of story – are beautifully told through Mantel’s captivating words.