The Bottom Line: This story will inform and inspire the reader.
My friend the librarian was reading this last year during one of our weekend long competitions. We spend a lot of time waiting on the kids between events. I can't scrape myself off of the wall long enough to concentrate on reading, but she dutifully "works" by reading material for the library.
I commented on the book when I saw her pull it out as I'd seen a student with it recently and she said. "It's SO good!"
She gave me the basic premise. . . A young Indian boy, the child of a zookeeper, becomes stranded on a raft in the Pacific with a Bengal tiger. As the day wore on, she would look up and tell me "where" the hero "Pi" was at that time in the book. Once she looked up with tears in her eyes and said, "You've got to read this."
I thought about it, just based on what she had told me and I was intrigued. As the year wound down, I'd see the book in the library and think about it more. Well, my ever faithful book club chose "Life of Pi" as one of our selections for the next year. As summer approached, I picked it up and set it on the stack of books next to my bed.
Finally the day came when I picked up "Life of Pi" The cover art is very intriguing. I usually don't pay much attention, but I found myself returning to look at it repeatedly during the reading experience. It is simple. A small dark human figure and a bright orange tiger on a bright white lifeboat against the image of the sea with a multitude of sea creatures below in attendance. It is a strong image even in its simplicity. I think I will carry it with me for a long time.
The novel proceeds as a flashback. A quiet Indian man in Canada has had an adventure in his past and agrees to tell the story. The adventure is one that defies the comprehension of almost everyone. His story begins telling about swimming. . .
Pi's parents have a great friend who is a swimming champion. He talks about the many pools he has been in, good and bad, and because of this, the Patel's name their young son "Piscine" which is the French word for swimming pool. They do not realize how cruel other children are and do not realize the problems inherent in a name pronounced "p*ssing."
As they are near the sea, the friend attempts to teach the Patel family to swim. This is met with failure until young Piscine is old enough to learn. He does learn and becomes quite adept.
Children are cruel and as Piscine begins school, he suffers for the name his parents have chosen for him. When he goes to the upper school, he does a cheeky thing and when the teacher calls on him he goes and writes the character PI on the board and then the number after it. He has escaped from the ignominious "p*ssing." In fact, other students copy his lead and soon there is an Omega as well!
Pi's father owns a zoo, and there is much description of the various animals and their relationships and their care. Pi's life away from home is bracketed by his chores in the zoo and his relationship with different animals. He learns and tells about the nature of a zoo and the very nature of "freedom". I had never thought about the life of a wild animal being so precarious. The text made me consider that a captive animal does not have the worry about the next meal, or parasites, or being eaten. Pi talks about their established territories where their needs are met, and that many are quite comfortable in confinement.
Pi has a spiritual curiosity. He manages to meet people of different faiths in his community, and in his own way becomes Christian, Muslim and Hindu. He sees all as aspects of the same God. He does not perceive a conflict until the day he encounters with his parents the leaders of all three faiths who each profess what a good and devout boy he is. The holy men perceive a major conflict and Pi's parents are astonished as they argue the points in front of them. The parents are also surprised that their son has embraced each religion so completely. Pi's faith is something that provides him with strength in his adventure.
Pi's father decides to sell the zoo and move to Canada. It takes many months to find homes for all of the animals and negotiate the copious amounts of paperwork involved. Finally, the preparations are complete and the Patel family board a ship that is to carry them across the Pacific. Four days out of port, Pi hears a noise in the middle of the night and goes out on deck to investigate. He realizes that the ship is taking on water, and a member of the crew throws him at the lifeboat. The ship sinks quickly, and Pi finds himself on a lifeboat in the company of a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
The main action of the story details Pi's survival on the raft over the next seven months. I will not spoil the novel by summarizing this here, but Pi utilizes his resources with such ingenuity as he assures his own survival and that of his companion Richard Parker (who is the only surviving animal.) The boy and the tiger develop a cooperative relationship. The boy feeds the tiger and the tiger doesn't eat him. Pi uses what he has learned about animal relationships within a group to establish dominance and territory and effectively trains the tiger to recognize Pi as the "Alpha" male.
This novel could almost be taken as a survival manual for those castaway in the Pacific. There is a wealth of description of day-to-day activities necessary to ensure survival. One could find such description mundane, but it is presented with the flavoring of desperation and faith which renders it vibrantly colorful. It is a testament to the human spirit and will to continue.
The book is written as a narrative. The story itself is simple, yet epic in its scope. It investigates human and animal nature and delivers a unique perspective on both. This book is suitable for the young adult and the adult reader as it will provide meaning for both. The language is not difficult, and it reads easily.
I finished this book yesterday, and have found myself thinking about it repeatedly. I think this is the measure of a good work of literature. A work that makes one think and reflect has effected some kind of change on the reader.
In some ways, a challenging read due to length and some of the specifics of the journey. Overall, however, an amazing journey to take. At turns practical and philosophical, it's a book that will hold you to the end.
Yann Martel's imaginative and unforgettableLife of Piis a magical reading experience, an endless blue expanse of storytelling about adventure, survival, and ultimately, faith. The precocious son of a zookeeper, 16-year-old Pi Patel is raised in Pondicherry, India, where he tries on various faiths for size, attracting "religions the way a dog attracts fleas." Planning a move to Canada, his father packs up the family and their menagerie and they hitch a ride on an enormous freighter. After a harrowing shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker ("His head was the size and color of the lifebuoy, with teeth"). It sounds like a colorful setup, but these wild beasts don't burst into song as if co-starring in an anthropomorphized Disney feature. After much gore and infighting, Pi and Richard Parker remain the boat's sole passengers, drifting for 227 days through shark-infested waters while fighting hunger, the elements, and an overactive imagination. In rich, hallucinatory passages, Pi recounts the harrowing journey as the days blur together, elegantly cataloging the endless passage of time and his struggles to survive: "It is pointless to say that this or that night was the worst of my life. I have so many bad nights to choose from that I've made none the champion."