Life of Pi – Review

Month: January 2011

Book-Had was reading:  Life of Pi- By Yann Martel


Life of Pi is a novel that not only tells an amazing story that entices you and keeps you captivated till the very end,  but also brings to you an expertly woven combination of knowledge, humour and philosophy.

It is indeed a story within a story. As the author Yann Martel, sets out in search of inspiration for his next novel, he meets a strange man in a coffee shop in Pondicherry who says to him “I have a story that will make you believe in God”. And so the author meets Piscine Molitor Patel in Toronto, who narrates to him, a bizarre yet incredible story of his journey through the waters of survival. In this novel, the author- a master story teller, chooses to write this story in first person- which makes it special in its own way. The narration has a propinquity and a simplicity that makes reading easy.

Pi Patel, at the time of the story, is a curious little boy- the son of a zoo keeper in Pondicherry. The early part of the book deals with a Pi’s interesting childhood. Growing up in a zoo, Pi learns a great deal from nature. He develops a deep interest in zoology, and a fantastic understanding of the various animal species. It is interesting to note how Pi interprets the social hierarchy in the animal kingdom and relates it to the varied animal behaviour.

Alternately it also describes the child’s peculiar and insightful ideas of religious multiplicity. Born to Hindu parents, Pi discovers the Catholic faith at age 14, when he meets a priest. He goes on to associate Christianity with love. Similarly as he curiously passes the Great mosque he meets the owner of a neighbouring bakery- a devout muslim who introduces him to the Islamic faith. Pi then openly and unabashedly practices all three religions, much to the consternation of his parents. Once when the different religious teachers meet the Patel family, claiming Pi to be a pious follower of their (own) faith and demanding that he choose  a single religion, Pi replies ” Bapu Gandhi has said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God,” silencing them all. Pi also later reflects on his belief that “Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims”.

Eventually, owing to the intolerable political situation in India, Pi’s parents decide to move to Canada and set off aboard a Japanese Cargo Ship with all the zoo animals. Tragedy strikes and the ship sinks leaving Pi and Richard Parker with a few other zoo animals as the only survivors of the shipwreck.

Life of Pi – as the cover illustration depicts, is the surreal story of Pi stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean with an injured zebra, a conniving hyena, a monkey named ‘Orange Juice’ and a 450 pound ferocious Bengal tiger for company. The story reaffirm’s Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest or the strongest as despair, desperation and hunger leads the animals to feed on one another. Soon Pi finds himself trapped alone with the daunting Tiger and there begins his struggle for their survival.

Though we know from the start that Pi ultimately survives, it doesn’t make the book any less beguiling. As Pi journeys through the various layers of extreme emotions, strife and beliefs the author paints the different shades of animal (or human) mannerisms. Yann Martel, expertly toys with the thought that when faced with the struggle for survival, human beings, just like animals, exhibit their worst and most atrocious characteristics- savage, selfish, and brutal. It makes us rely on our instincts forgoing all values of humanity and feelings.

During his 227 day long ordeal, Pi floats along from sheer despair, grief and hopelessness, to fear, hunger, isolation, to determination, hope and faith, to dominance and skill to the ultimate Survival. He fights the adverse elements of nature, confronts the terrors of fear and solitude, learns to hunt for food and make fresh drinking water, tames the very beast that once terrified him (and threatened to bring his death) and befriends him such that it becomes his sole reason to survive. That and his faith in GOD makes him live on through the directionless journey, through seven long months of hoping against hope to see the shore.

The final part of the book however, is the most interesting part of the book. Pi is rescued on the Mexican coast, and is taken to his foster parents in Canada. What follows, is an interview that leaves us pondering about the various profound layers of the book, about reality and fiction, as the narrator puts it “That’s what fiction is about, isn’t it? The selective transforming of reality?

The story has its share of grief, irony, drama, humour and suspense that keeps the reader engaged till the very end. It also has the right dose of philosophy, religion, and informative detail that at times sets the reader thinking and in certain places even overwhelms them.

For those of us who would like an adventurous, heart wrenching, enthralling, enriching yet thought provoking book- Life of Pi definitely makes a compulsive read and is strongly recommended.

Book-Had rates ‘Life of Pi’ 3.5/5.

-Divya Srinivasan

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