Jan 26, 2013

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Since the movie had already been made, I thought it was about time I read this book. I had put it aside for many years as one I wanted to read, but somehow I just never seemed to get around to it. I started reading it before I saw the movie, but I didn't finish it until after I had seen it. This is a kind of unusual situation for me, as I usually prefer to read the book before any screen adaptation.  However, the opportunity arose to view a special early screening and I took the opportunity. (I blog about this is the next post).

The basic story is broken into three parts. Pi growing up in India, his seaborne adventure and the life as an adult in Canada. This gives the story some great background and also relieves the reader of some of the monotony of a single setting adventure.

Part one describes that of an Indian boy who grew up in a changing society, mixing the new India with the old India as well as many foreign influences. As a boy, Pi is eager to learn and embraces many religions much to the mirth of his progressive father and brother, and the confusion of his devout Hindu mother. Despite some teasing about his name Piscine, he has a pretty happy childhood. Loving parents, a good relationship with his brother, some friends and mentors and the exciting life as the son of a Manager of the Zoological Gardens in his home town of Pondicherry.

Part two begins when his father decides to move to Canada, and they are to catch a ship there, and help transport some of the animals to their new homes. When a storm strikes Pi finds himself the sole survivor of the sinking ship, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He is stuck on a lifeboat with a hyena, an orang-utan  a zebra and a tiger.

Part three is in Mexico, where the suits from the shipping company are interviewing Pi about what happened. But, part three is really sprinkled through the novel, where the adult Pi (now living in Canada) is interviewed by the "author" character in order to research his story.

I originally thought this was based on a true story, because we are set up to believe that in the Author's note. Either way, it didn't bother me, because I was aware that as Pi was only 16 and had gone through a traumatic experience, then the story was never going to be accurate. About half way through I researched a little, and realised it was entirely fiction. But, I'm sure I would have gotten there once Pi got to the island.

The island is a sticking point for me and I find it not only illogical, I don't understand it's purpose or how it fits with the story. If I could get past the chance of the boy surviving with the animals, especially the tiger, I just could not get past the island. It spoiled what was otherwise a great story, for me anyway.

I can't discuss this novel without mentioning the assertion that this story will "make you believe in God". It made me believe that human beings are incredible survivors and that they are adaptable under the most amazing circumstances, but no gods here - sorry.

I know some people couldn't finish this novel and many were disappointed  but I haven't really read why, as I was worried how it would affect my review before I wrote it. So my honest opinion, notwithstanding the above mentioned assertion, the religion is handled beautifully. The descriptions of Indian made me hungry for Indian food for weeks after I read it. The story is well told and I really kind of liked it. But, I think he shouldn't have included that island nonsense.

I would still recommend it as a great story to read.


  1. Nice review, Kate! This is truly one of my favorite books. The film was wonderful. Ang Lee really did a terrific job of bringing the book faithfully to the screen.

  2. I so want to read this book but I won't as I fear something happens to the tiger and I'm that sensitive. I've heard it's an excellent read.

  3. I haven't read this book yet, but would love to after seeing the movie!

    Jessi in Wonderland

  4. I loved this book and interpreted it a bit differently. I see it as two stories. (Real and fiction although both are fiction in real life.) Do we want to believe in the magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat as magic or do we know it's a trick? Trust me it's a trick as is the clever way Martel put this story together knowing we would rather hear about a tiger in a boat than his secondary and horrifying story of losing his mother.


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