Life of Pi by Yann Martel


Historical FictionLife of Pi Life of PiYann Martel; Harcourt 2002WorldCat

“A boy. A tiger. And the vast Pacific Ocean.” That is the description of this story on the inside flap of the book cover. Someone tells the author that this story is one to make you believe in God.

Piscine Patel is a boy living with his parents in Pondicherry, a town in a small territory in India. His father is a zookeeper. He and his brother Ravi grow up around the animals, learning the lessons animal handlers need to know. They grow up in their own personality ways as well. Ravi becomes the sports enthusiast. Pi (the name he adopted for himself when he moved to a new school) is the more spiritual and intellectual of the two.

When Pi is around 14 or 15, his parents decide to close and sell the zoo and move to Canada. It isn’t easy selling a zoo and the animals. In the 1970’s zoos around the world are facing new challenges with obtaining and preserving the animals. There are more laws for protection of the animals both as zoo animals and for the preservation of endangered species. By the time Pi is 16, they are ready to move. They board a cargo ship bound for Canada. Many of the animals that have been sold to American zoos are also on the ship.

One night Pi can’t sleep. He wanders to the deck and hears a strange sound. When he investigates, the ship is on fire. He is unable to get back below to wake his family. Instead, he is helped into a lifeboat. He hopes his family gets into another one. He discovers he is sharing his with a variety of animals that escaped in the chaos. Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean with his mini-zoo. What can he do to survive until the rescuers find him?

This is a spiritual book. Yet it is not a religious book. Pi’s beliefs are unusual. Many people would find his reverences at odd with themselves. Out in the middle of the ocean, his religious beliefs are forgotten. He is too busy doing what he must to stay alive. Or are they forgotten? How is he able to face the animals, the storms, the hot sun, the lack of food if not for his faith?

This book won many awards for writing in 2002. I found it introspective and interesting, but it didn’t ring any “This is great!” chords for me. It’s a book that I will recommend, yet not rave over. It’s a quiet book, despite Pi’s adventures. It doesn’t leave you quickly. I must admit, when I was done, I had to wonder if this is based on a true story, or a total piece of fiction. If fiction, the writing is excellent, because the reader is sure this had to have happened.

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