A Life of Pi

by Yann Martel

Paperback, 2001





Orlando, FL : Harcourt, 2001.


Winner of the 2002 Man Booker Prize for Fiction Pi Patel is an unusual boy. The son of a zookeeper, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior, a fervent love of stories, and practices not only his native Hinduism, but also Christianity and Islam. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them "the truth." After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional-but is it more true? Life of Pi is at once a realistic, rousing adventure and a meta-tale of survival that explores the redemptive power of storytelling and the transformative nature of fiction. It's a story, as one character puts it, to make you believe in God. Publisher Fact Sheet. A fabulist novel that combines the delight of Kipling's Just So Stories with the metaphysical adventure of Jonah and the Whale.… (more)

Media reviews

The story is engaging and the characters attractively zany. Piscine Molitor Patel (named after a family friend's favourite French swimming pool) grows up in Pondicherry, a French-speaking part of India, where his father runs the local zoo. Pi, Hindu-born, has a talent for faith and sees nothing wrong with being converted both to Islam and to Christianity. Pi and his brother understand animals intimately, but their father impresses on them the dangers of anthropomorphism: invade an animal's territory, and you will quickly find that nearly every creature is dangerous
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Granted, it may not qualify as ''a story that will make you believe in God,'' as one character describes it. But it could renew your faith in the ability of novelists to invest even the most outrageous scenario with plausible life -- although sticklers for literal realism, poor souls, will find much to carp at.

User reviews

LibraryThing member richardderus
The whole world has a copy of this book, including me...but not for long. Over 10,000 copies of this on LT, so how many trees died just for our copies alone? Don't go into the forest, ladies and gents, the trees will be lookin' for revenge after they read this book.

There is no question that Martel can write lovely sentences: "Those first hours were associated in my memory with one sound, not one you'd guess, not the yipping of the hyena or the hissing of the sea: it was the buzzing of flies. There were flies aboard the lifeboat. They emerged and flew about in the way of flies, in great, lazy orbits except when they came close to each other, when they spiralled together with dizzying speed and a burst of buzzing." (p118, paper ed.) Good, good stuff, nicely observed and handsomely rendered, and not enough to lift this dreary pseudo-philosophical rehash of Jonathan Livingston Seagull into greatness.

Piscine Molitor (Pi) Patel does not wring my heartstrings on his spiritual quest across the vasty deep, accompanied by a tiger named Richard Parker, to a carnivorous island, thence to Mexico to answer to a pair of noxious Japanese stereotypes and, ultimately, to Canada...sort of an anodyne for all the adventure he's been through, the way the author presents it. If I were Canadian or Torontoid (or whatever they call themselves), I'd be livid with fury over this crapulous insult to my homeland.

But hey, I'm Texan and Murrikin, if they don't care enough to run this yahoo outta town, why should I? The yodeling of joyous awakening that fogged this book on its debut..."a story to make you believe in the soul-sustaining power of fiction" ugh!; "could renew your faith in the ability of novelists to invest even the most outrageous scenario with plausible life" oh really?; "a fabulous romp through an imagination by turns ecstatic, cunning, despairing and resilient" *retch*...made my "oh yeah?" follicle erect its sturdy little hair, so I avoided it. But, in all fairness, people I love and respect lived it, so it's a mitzvah to read it, right?

Public notice: My spiritual debt to the opinions of others is, with the reading of this ghastly book, herewith Paid In Full For Good. Most strongly and heartily NOT RECOMMENDED.
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LibraryThing member kukkurovaca
*It's too long. Not the book. The life. You die, Pi Patel. You die.*

Okay, I finally got around to reading Yann Martel's *Life of Pi*. I've been looking for a cheap (i.e., free) copy ever since Whitney suggested it to me two letters ago...

For those who aren't familiar, *Life of Pi* deals with an Indian (never a good sign for UgP:Nick) guy adrift in a lifeboat for several months with a tiger. There's more too it than that, but not actually *that* much more. If you want more details, ask someone else. (AmaZon:Life+Of+Pi)

Now, my reaction to the book was not positive; the negativity of my reaction is not attributable to the quality of the book, though I'm not nearly as taken with it as most people seem to be, but with the beliefs of the protagonist. Patel identifies simultaneously as a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim; this identification depends on (a) the Vedantic synthesis of monism and polytheism (anyone who can swallow that load of nonsense--of "Hindoo Fakosophy", to borrow from George Herriman (cf. [[Krazy Kat]])--can easily blend anything else and (b) the peculiarly Hindu henotheistic mode, which allows for shifting loyalties as a basic religious practice. It also rests on a certain new-age rejection of difference and, above all, of *specificity* in the religions of the world. When the theological philanderer is confronted at once by his priest, his pandit (or whatever), and his imam, we get the following:

The pandit spoke first. "Mr. Patel, Piscine's piety is admirable. In these troubled times it's good to see a boy so keen on God. We all agree on that." The imam and the priest nodded. "But he can't be a Hindu, a Christian *and* a Muslim. It's impossible. He must choose."

"I don't think it's a crime, but I suppose you're right."

The three murmurred agreement and looked heavenward, as did Father, whence they felt the decision must come. Mother looked at me.

A silence fell heavily on my shoulders.

"Hmmm, Piscine?" Mother nudged me. "How do you feel about the question?"

"Bapu Gandhi said, `All religions are true.` I just want to love God," I blurted out, and looked down, red in the face.

My embarrassment was contagious. No one said anything. It happened that we were not far from the statu of Gandhi on the esplanade. Stick in h and, an impish smile on his lips, a twinkle in his eyes, the Mahatma walked. I fancy that he heard our conversation, but that he paid even greater attention to my heart. Father cleared his throat and said in a half-voice, "I suppose that's what we're all trying to do--love God." (p. 69)

Elsewhere, we find this:

"a quickening of the moral sense, which strikes one as more important than an intellectual understanding of things; an alignment of the universe along moral lines, not intellectual ones;" (p. 63)

And this:

Sometimes I got my majors {religious studies and zoology} mixed up. A number of my fellow religious-studies students--muddled agnostics who didn't know which way was up, who were in the thrall of reason, that fool's gold for the bright--reminded me of the three-toed sloth; and the three-toed sloth, such a beautiful example of the miracle of life, reminded me of God.

I never had problems with my fellow scientists. Scientists are a friendly, athiestic, hard-working, beer-drinking lot whose minds are preoccupied with sex, chess, and baseball when they are not preoccupied with science.

This is all a very particular, very new-age, very specific form of anti-intellectualism--specifically, a rejection of reason, of particularity, and especially, of *choice* in the religious sphere.

This is what I left behind when I forsook the new-age syncretism of my youth in favor of my (still incomplete) religious quest structured by rigorous questioning. Pi's character is good-natured, up-beat, and utterly opposed to serious religiosity; if I encountered him on the street, I'd feel a strong urge to beat him to death with a copy of Kierkegaard's *Fear and Trembling*...

Now, of course, just because I hate the protagonist does not mean that I necessarily have to hate the book; and nor did I find the book all that horrible a read. There are some moments of amusement (like situating the difference between Christianity and Islam in the fact that while both suffer from a scarcity of gods, Christianity is known to have good schools), and later in the story some surreal elements that are heartening, but overall the story has very little flesh to it, for this reason: the story is structured around Patel's faith--his excessive, offensive faith--and he never, in the story, doubts; it's like writing an adventure story in which the main character is never tired; it can be done, but it has an essential hollowness to it.

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LibraryThing member gbill
Life of Pi is imaginative, fantastical allegory.

A young man, Pi Patel, survives a shipwreck at sea, only to find himself in a lifeboat with a hyena, zebra, orangutan, and a tiger by the name of Richard Parker. The animals are there because Pi’s father is a zookeeper and is transporting it from India to Canada when the fateful storm strikes. Fairly quickly the only two who remain are Richard Parker and Pi, and of course Pi must use his wits to survive for hundreds of days in this predicament. I’ll spare you the details but survive he does; Pi lives to tell his tale to a couple of shocked investigators.

It’s when the investigators express a little skepticism, and ask Pi to tell the story without the animals, that the allegory reveals itself.

Pi says, “You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or farther or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.” And then proceeds to tell them, briefly, in 10 pages as opposed to the 300 that came before it, a very different version, one with people who have climbed aboard the lifeboat with him instead of animals, one of whom is his mother. They are driven to extremes by hunger, and resort to cannibalism and murder in order to survive.

And so the reader is faced with the question, were the animals make-believe all along, dreamed up by Pi to avoid staring cruelty and inhumanity in the face, so that he doesn’t have to acknowledge the fact that to survive he ate human flesh, and that his mother, not an orangutan, was killed before his very eyes?

It’s a question that Martel doesn’t answer directly, and perhaps it’s not relevant. For he seems to be asking a different question, which as I ponder It seems to be that in a larger sense aren’t all of us adrift in the ocean of existence, often faced with desperate circumstances, and unfortunately witnessing cruelty in some form or another from our fellow man? That to transcend this condition, to transcend our transience, don’t we populate the story of our existence with fantasy as a coping mechanism, and isn’t it perhaps better to do that? Indeed, one of the investigators draws the conclusion that the story with the animals is “better”, to which Pi replies, “And so it goes with God.”

While the religious view does seem to be Martel/Patel’s answer, it isn’t delivered in a heavy-handed way. Patel is open to all religions and in fact chooses to believe in several of them, and also considers atheists his brothers. While I don’t agree with Pi when he says that they are “of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith”, in fact I strongly disagree, to the larger story atheists can draw their own conclusion, for Martel’s question doesn’t seem to be what “reality” or “truth” is, it seems to be what’s the better story, what’s the better way to choose to live life, what’s the better belief system. One can choose the “dry, yeastless factuality”, as he puts it, if one views the unvarnished truth as preferable, and reject the idea of a 450-pound tiger in a lifeboat.

Just this quote, on death:
“To lose a brother is to lose someone with whom you can share the experience of growing old, who is supposed to bring you a sister-in-law and nieces and nephew, creatures to people the tree of your life and give it new branches. To lose your father is to lose the one whose guidance and help you seek, who supports you like a tree trunk supports its branches. To lose your mother, well, that is like losing the sun above you.”
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LibraryThing member AndrewBlackman
I’ve heard good things about this book for ages, ever since it won the Booker Prize back in 2002, but for some reason I always resisted reading it. Perhaps it’s because I tend to prefer books that stay quite close to reality, and the premise of this one - a 16-year-old boy called Pi travels the Pacific in a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger - sounded like the exact opposite. It’s a tall tale, almost deliberately unrealistic. Martel seems to take the absurdity of the premise as a challenge - to make the reader believe it anyway.

And the amazing thing is that he mostly succeeds. There’s quite a long lead-in before we get to the boat part, and I think that helps. It doesn’t really help us get to know Pi - he’s a child, and apart from showing curiosity about various world religions he doesn’t actually do much. As with many children, things just happen to him, and these things are dependent more on the adults around him than on his own will.

What the introductory part does instead is to lay some of the groundwork for what happens later. Pi’s father is a zookeeper in southern India, and we learn much about animals’ territorial natures, their habits, their fears, their social hierarchies, and about lion-taming. These are the things Pi will later put into practice when his family is moving to Canada and the boat sinks, leaving him adrift with an assortment of animals that were being transported from their zoo to North American ones. When he does, we recognise them and the straight, scientific way in which they were described appears to lend them some credibility.

In an “Author’s Note” at the beginning, Martel describes a trip to India in which he encounters an old man who promises “I have a story that will make you believe in God” and then proceeds to tell him the story which Martel turns into this book. Religion is clearly a theme throughout the book - or perhaps more accurately, faith, since organised religions are portrayed as largely missing the point. Pi practises Christianity, Islam and Hinduism simultaneously, and when he is confronted by the priest, imam and pandit, they argue amongst themselves while the boy Pi quotes Gandhi as saying “All religions are true”, adding “I just want to love God”.

The story doesn’t really make you believe in God, though. An atheist or agnostic could quite easily attribute Pi’s survival to human qualities of intelligence and ingenuity, without any divine intervention. The key comes towards the end, when Pi is interviewed by people who refuse to believe his story about being trapped in a boat for months with a tiger. In response to their scepticism, he tells an alternative, much bleaker and more believable version in which all the animals and bizarre events are absent and he is on a boat with people who argue, kill each other and eat each other’s flesh.

There are certain parallels in the events in the two stories, so that you can think that perhaps Pi has created the animal version to shield him from the horror of the real one. But then Pi poses the question: “Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?” His listeners are forced to admit that the story with the animals is better, to which he replies “Thank you. And so it goes with God.”

The phrase “better story” echoes a passage much earlier in the book where Pi is talking about a dying agnostic, staying “beholden to dry, yeastless factuality” to the very end, who “might try to explain the warm light bathing him by saying ‘Possibly a failing oxygenation of the brain’ and, to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story.” The conclusion appears to be that, since we have no real way of knowing how the universe was created, we might as well believe the version with God since, like the version with animals, it is the better story. It’s an interesting idea but not really something to “make you believe in God.”

In fact, the further away I get from this novel, the more I feel myself reverting to my earlier scepticism. The artfulness of the storytelling fades, and only the absurd outlines remain. I am gradually returning to the state I was in from 2002 to 2008, knowing vaguely about a story with a boy and a tiger and thinking it all sounded a bit silly.

But in that brief time when I was actually reading the book, I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I was caught up in the story, I was bowled over by the sheer audacity of the plot, and the ‘God’ aspects seemed much stronger than they appear in retrospect. I even read large chunks of the book a second time, although that was largely because I was trapped in U.S. immigration at JFK airport for two and a half hours with nothing else to read. But I do remember being very enthusiastic about the book, so much so that the two and a half hours passed quickly. I’d definitely recommend it. I might even reread it again myself one day, although hopefully in happier circumstances.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Life of Pi by Yann Martel will probably go down as my most surprising book of the year. A book of wonder and delight, very different from what I was expecting. Obviously a master story-teller, the author makes believable the fantastic story that Pi has to tell,

The character of Pi is one of the most likeable ones I have read about. His devotion, his determination, his instinct for survival are equally strong. He simply refuses to give up, and although at times is bowed by despair, he always fights back and overcomes each challenge. Written beautifully and whether giving a insight into the philosophy of life, or simply delivering a biological fact about animals, this book always gives the reader something to ponder and reflect upon.

A boy, a lifeboat and a tiger. In the end the author throws down one last challenge, do you believe? I certainly did and I highly recommend Life of Pi to anyone who wants to get carried away on a grand adventure.
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LibraryThing member Nickelini
I'm sure every bookish person has an idea of what this novel is about: Indian teenager named Pi is shipwrecked while immigrating to Canada with his family. He finds himself sharing a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger as they float eastward across the Pacific. In the end, people don't believe his story, but everyone agrees that the story with the tiger is a better story than the story without, and this is a metaphor for a belief in God.

Life of Pi won the Booker Prize in 2002 and is included in the 1001 Books list, so of course many people have enjoyed it. Some readers don't like that after a realistic beginning, the story gets more and more improbable, particularly when it gets to the blind Frenchman and then the algae island. I thoroughly enjoyed these scenes, along with the rest of the book. To me, the story is a sort of fairy tale or fable, although one that is told in a realistic style. I also enjoyed Pi's optimistic character, and the narrative voice.

Other readers have complained that this book is pro-religion at the expense of reason, and I completely disagree with that--the book is full of reason, particularly scientific facts about zoology and survival at sea. I understand this book to say that both spirituality AND reason are important. As for the pro-religion, I actually find that aspect of it sort of wishy-washy. Despite protests from his elders, Pi insists that he is Hindu, Catholic, and Muslim all at the same time. I was worried that Life of Pi might be preachy, but I didn't find it so at all.
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LibraryThing member Katie_H
Piscine Molotor Patel (Pi) is the son of a zoo owner living in India. He loves God and religion, and to the disdain of his family, he becomes a Hindu, Christian, and Muslim simultaneously, drawing from each religion equally. When finances become tight, his father decides to sell the zoo and move to Canada. They leave on an old ship, along with several exotic animals that will also be making the journey. Somewhere in the Pacific, the ship sinks, leaving Pi stranded in a lifeboat with a zebra, hyena, orangutan, and tiger, named Richard Parker. Given the natural instincts of Richard Parker, the population quickly diminishes to just Pi and Richard. In order to survive, Pi, acting as trainer, gradually and successfully asserts his alpha status. After 277 days and many exciting events and struggles, they finally wash up on a beach in Mexico. When Pi is debriefed on his adventure, the truth to his tale is called into question, and the nature of man and his relationship with belief is explored. In our lives and in Pi's, in a struggle between science and faith, there are two different forms of explanation, one that makes sense, and one that we yearn to believe. Ultimately this novel is a strong statement on life; in order to survive, we need to be practical, but to stay sane, we need to believe in something. Balance of the two extremes is ideal, as too much reason and skepticism causes us to miss beauty and magnificence, but relying on faith in excess can lead to danger at times. The plot design is unique, thought provoking, and inspiring, and I absolutely loved it.… (more)
LibraryThing member Laura400
I know I'm in the minority here. But I could not finish this book. I found it irritating and boring and almost punishing to read. I'm sure it would have improved by the end, but I just couldn't stick it out.
LibraryThing member sevigne
Great book for seven reasons:
1. Many names of places in Paris and India have magic power. To name the main character in a novel "Molitor Patel" thus linking India and Paris via Pondichery, is genius.
2. Swimming pools allow to be aquatic for a while: Piscine is away - cast away
3. The book maked me a compulsive reader. I wanted so much that Piscine and Richard Parker are happy and well.
4. While reading the book I lived with a big feline presence, imagining it to come round the corner of my street any minute.
5. The main character is smart but not bragging about it like authors often do (Potok or Semprun).
6. Time and place are mostly unclear. Close to fairy tales. The end: is it true or is it not true? reminds the start of any fairy tales from the Magreb: "Once upon a time there was...or there wasn't. Also a good reason the read again "Noms de pays" last part, first book: Du côté de chez Swann" à la recherche du temps perdu M. Proust.
7. If faith must be adopting three at the same time is a great option.
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LibraryThing member LizanneVee
This book will be packed in my suitcase when I depart for my deserted island. I know, I know, I should rather pack booze.. but this is an amazing read. When I finished Life of Pi the first time, I just started reading again right from the beginning. The story is so unbelievable that you can almost believe it really happened. Try it.… (more)
LibraryThing member storyjunkie
Though I swore I wouldn't, I began reading the Reader's Group Guide in the back as soon as I finished the story. The first question crystallizes one of the most intriguing characteristics of this novel.

The fact that it is a novel.

I am probably taking the cohabitation of the non-fiction novel, the fictionalization of real people, and the selling of fictional stories as real autobiography a little far in my interpretations of _Life of Pi_, but it does illustrate how fluid 'reality' is.

The book begins with an Author's Note, unsigned, that extends into what amounts to further Author's Notes inserted into the narrative of the book itself. Structurally, it works as a frame story. It's an old trick in fiction to use equally fictitious authoritative sources within a story to help the suspense of disbelief. And at first glance that looks like what Martel is doing. Adding in a layer between the reader and Pi Patel's story. Yet, that first question in the reading guide takes those Author's Notes at face value - attributing them to Martel, and thus recognizing Pi Patel as a real person. A quick Google search produced only one source that agrees with this assumption, but does so based on the same facts, rather than on any additional ones. Meaning to say, that the assumption that the Author's Notes aren't just a frame story, but direct from Martel to the reader, is currently uncorroborated.

As it is a story focused on human belief, I find it very interesting that there can be doubt sown into the very fabric of the narrative like this. Especially at the end, when the two stories of how Pi survived at sea are matched up side by side. There's no way to ascertain the truth for sure, for oneself, given only the contents of the book.

At least, there isn't unless I'm over-thinking this, and entirely too fond of the unreliable narrator.
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LibraryThing member nittnut
Unique, allegorical, fascinating from start to finish. Great book for a book group discussion.
I have a degree in zoology, and was intrigued by the author's merging of human and animal behavior to create a nearly believable scenario of survival of the fittest.
Not being terribly prone to philosophizing on religion, I more amused than troubled by the main character's attempts to practice more than one religion at the same time. In fact, I think most people practice more than one "religion" regularly, and that is what leads to most of the conflict and struggle in life.
I found the book thoroughly enjoyable, and would recommend it highly.
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LibraryThing member MarysGirl
Bought this at Strand Bookstore because so many people had recommended to me. Hardback published by Harcourt in 2001. I really liked it, although I felt the beginning was a bit slow - beautiful, descriptive and necessary, but the "story" doesn't start until Part 2 when Pi and the animals try to survive in the lifeboat. I won't give away the ending - but it completely caught me by surprise and made me appreciate Martel's storytelling even more.… (more)
LibraryThing member bruchu
Philosophical Realism

I bought this book several years ago but believe or not I never got a chance to read it until a few days ago. And I'm wondering why now, since the "Life of Pi" is one of the best contemporary fictional novels I've ever read.

Since most already know the plot, I will just comment on the writing style and greater philosophical questions that Martel's book engages. Fundamentally, the book is about faith. What is faith, and does faith exist outside of institutionalized religion? I found Martel's metaphorical use of Pi's ambivalence and ambiguity over organized religion with the contemporary post-modern obfuscation over issues of faith to be ingenious and thought-provoking.

Then there is the philosophical question over allegorical scripture. How stories within institutionalized religion are memorialized and notions of literal interpretation or allegorical. This all of course parallels debates between fundamentalists and contextualists.

The writing style is raw, gritty, and uncensored. Certainly many readers will recoil at many parts, but I think a contemporary novel like this can exist without such realism. After all, this isn't a children's book, but an adult book with adult themes, therefore, it should reflect that reality. Martel is a great storyteller and writes in a very fluid style and is great at building suspense.

Whether you like the writing or not, I think the greater philosophical questions that "Life of Pi" asks cannot be ignored. It confronts fundamental issues of faith which remain as relevant today as they have ever been. Definitely a must read book.
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LibraryThing member MissMea
An absolutely amazing book of courage, tranquility, and Life. Will have you in awe. Induces tears, laughter, pain, and fear. Has an ending that will knock your socks off! The most beautiful imagination I have seen in a writer, probably forever. One of my favorite books ever! Was a bestseller for a reason!! I highly recommend, 100%!… (more)
LibraryThing member bookcrazed
Entwined with this engrossingly fantastic tale of a teenage boy lost at sea after a shipwreck are encyclopedic descriptions of captive animals and sea life. I am an information junkie. I love to listen to a good yarn. And I am addicted to meaning-of-life nuances in ordinary (and extraordinary) settings. The Daily Telegraph labeled Martel's story "a hilarious novel, full of clever tricks," the Daily Mail called it "an uplifting story," and The New York Times Book Review called it "a subtle and sophisticated fable about belief." I suppose all of these things are true. And if I read it again (and I will, as it demands I must), I am certain I will find dozens of other labels for it. As I finished the book, I wrote in my notes, "When the bare facts are impossible to live with, create a story that is." The idea that Pi may have experienced alternate realities is simply a hint at the end of the story. Did he tell his story in code, as it happened, or in the only form his mind could allow? I don't know how much was Martel's intention and how much derives from the way it touches the personal experience of every reader, a characteristic of all great literature. When the artist completes a work, ownership is transferred to the viewer, who may (and will) make of it many things never seen by the artist. (July 2007)… (more)
LibraryThing member booksbooks11
Pi Patel asks us to pick our course in life and shows with startling clarity that it is the stories of our lives that are its truths. Make your life what it is and choose your story carefully. I can't help but quote this section of the novel as one of the central tennants
"I can well imagine an atheist's last words: "White, white! L-L-Love! My God!" -and the deathbed leap of faith. Whereas the agnostic, if he stays true to his reasonable self, if he stays beholden to dry, yeastless factuality, might try to explian the warm light bathing him by saying "Possibly a f-f-failing oxygenation of the b-b-brain," and, to to the very end, lack imagination and miss the better story."
For those of us who are well read on the topic and fully trained in the scientific displicines this should make us sit up and think and ponder what story we are choosing for our life.
Apart from those insights into religion and truth it is a really well told story that you won't want to put down. Completely fantastic and yet absolutely real and engaging.
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LibraryThing member jclarkd
This book is amazing. From the beginning the book had my attention. I could easily say that this is the best book i've read in a really long time. Throughout the journey of survival Pi, a 16 year old boy, finds himself stranded at sea with a 450 lbs tiger. I wish the book never ended, it had me so engaged in it. The philosophy in the first part of the book is pretty deep too. This is the first book that I've ever read that had me teary eyed. I loved it.… (more)
LibraryThing member edgeworth
This is a wonderful book.

Life of Pi is split into two very distinct halves, both of them presented as a frame story by a fictitious author. They deal with two phases in the life of Piscine Patel, who nicknames himself "Pi" to avoid taunts from his schoolmates. The first is set in Pondicherry, a French-flavoured Indian city where Pi grows up as the son of a zookeeper. Raised a Hindu, his natural curiousity and unprejudiced piousness attracts him to other religions, and he soon considers himself a Christian and a Muslim as well. This leads to problems with his parents, and all his local priests. Martel's writing style establishes itself quickly: poetic, eloquent, the kind of man who - along with Michael Chabon, Philip Reeve and Cormac McCarthy - can evoke a scene's visual beauty with great ease.

The second part of the book, which is the main attraction, covers a sixteen-year old Pi's bizarre adventures on the Pacific Ocean. His family is migrating from India to Canada, travelling on a Japanese freighter that also carries several animals from their zoo, for transfer to the United States. The ship sinks, and Pi is the only human survivor. He finds himself sharing a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orang-utan, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger.

The sheer implausibility of this scenario is rendered perfectly feasible by Martel's writing. As Pi himself says, explaining his story to a disbelieving pair of Japanese investigators while recovering from his ordeal in hospital:

"Tigers exist, lifeboats exist, oceans exist. Because the three have never come together in your narrow, limited experience, you refuse to believe that they might. Yet the plain fact is that the Tsimtsum brought them together and then sank."

Martel spent a year researching zoos and animals, and it was time well spent. The behaviour of all the lifeboat's inhabitants - their poses, their fears, their territorial squabbles and their reaction to being trapped in such a tiny space - feels realistic even to a reader without any firm zoological knowledge. The animals are not as dangerous as the average person might believe, but neither are they harmless. Before long only Pi and the tiger remain, and Pi must gather together all his courage and knowledge of the animal kingdom to somehow survive in thirty square metres of space with a creature that could kill him with a single blow.

Towards the end of the book things grow stranger. Pi runs out of food and water, and as his body slowly dies, his faculties begin to dim. Another castaway is met whose plight is suspiciously similar to his own, and they share a brief and cryptic conversation. The tiger speaks to him in the night. A mysterious island that seems both heaven and hell is discovered, yields a terrible secret, and promptly fled from. Whether these experiences are dreams, hallucinations or the truth is difficult to ascertain. In the final chapters, as Pi relates his tale to the Japanese investigators, he implies that perhaps the entire story - even the crowd of animals on the lifeboat, which Martel made so perfectly believable - was just a comforting fable his mind constructed to protect itself from the much darker, disturbing truth of what really happened on the lifeboat. Is this the true story? Or is Pi simply spinning it out in frustration because the investigators do not believe he could have survived for so long with a tiger?

There is a wealth of symbolism, allegories and interpretations that could be taken from this book, and I don't know where to begin with them all. I will re-read this many times in my life. It's a beautiful story built on a fascinating premise, one of those few perfect novels where everything comes together and just works.
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LibraryThing member mooingzelda
This book is so much more than a story of survival in almost unbelievable circumstances. It is a joy to read thanks to Martel's amazing eye for detail (is anyone else very impressed at how well he managed to get into the mindset of a young Indian boy?) and its theme of faith vs doubt, as well as (I thought) the idea that not much at all really separates man from animals, has kept me thinking about the story for some time after finishing it.

Of course, the story itself is compelling; granted, it starts slowly, but once I was with Pi on the boat all of those little stories and details from the first part started to fall into place and I found myself racing through the book just to find out what happened next.

The use of an author's 'voice' throughout the book is interesting and it is fascinating to read his descriptions of Pi as a grown man. This method of narration also makes the question at the end of which story is the true one even more interesting.

This is truly an unforgettable read thanks to Martel's wonderful style of writing, and one that everyone should enjoy.
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LibraryThing member acl
90% of this book's action takes place on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, and somehow, it still manages to be interesting.
LibraryThing member jimrgill
Knowing only that this novel has been incredibly popular and that some have claimed that it is proof of God’s existence, it has been on my “must read” list for a number of years. And so I finally read it. I was prepared to read a rousing adventure story of an Indian boy’s survival in the Pacific Ocean aboard a life boat he shares with a Bengal tiger. And in this respect, the book supplies abundant rewards. Martel is a magnificent storyteller. He creates remarkably genuine characters, and he relates events in seamlessly beautiful, artistic prose that is at once clear, stunning, and sublime. What I was not prepared for, however, was the postmodern metafictional nature of this narrative. Although it may not become apparent until the very end of the novel, when Pi tells his incredible story of survival to a couple of Japanese government employees, Martel’s novel is all about the creation of story—about the ability of language to construct “truth” from mere words:

Isn’t telling about something—using words, English or Japanese—already something of an invention? Isn’t looking upon this world already something of an invention? (p. 302)

As Martel implies, nothing is true or real until language legitimizes it. The novel itself is a construction of embedded narratives—it begins with Martel (or a Martel-like narrator) telling of his encounter with a man who directs him to Pi, who then tells his story to the narrator—who in turn relates it to the reader. For a portion of the novel (the first quarter of it), the narrator weaves his voice together with Pi’s and tells the story of how Pi told him his story. And the novel ends with the Japanese agents’ rendition of their meeting with Pi, during which he tells them two vastly different versions of his story.

All of this meditation on the nature of narrative and story prompts me to reflect on the way in which I read this novel—as I read it, I was looking for evidence that this novel was about the existence of God, the meaning of faith, etc. What I found instead was a very well-written and entertaining adventure story that—like the subject of religion (which is surely present in the novel)—serves as an extended metaphor for a much broader theme: the eternal question of epistemological uncertainty and the various ways we choose to cope with that uncertainty.
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LibraryThing member zooeybat
(for those who have read the book already)

When my sister gave me this book to read, I thought it was for young adults. Then I dove into the novel and thoroughly enjoyed both the theology and animal behavior detailed within.

I found the middle section of the novel, when Pi is alone on the water facing incredible odds, to be the most moving. Despite his circumstances, Pi never loses his faith. Whether or he was on the boat with the animals or with humans, the story left me breathless and once I finished. I needed to sit and mediate upon what I had just read for quite a while.

This novel left an unforgettable imprint on me, I hope it does the same for you.
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LibraryThing member echoesofstars
This book is amazing. Simply amazing. I hated it in the beginning but loved it in the end. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an extreme response to a book before.

The beginning frustrated me because of the lack of logic. If Pi wants to practice universalism, then by all means, he should go ahead and do so. But then he has no right to criticize agnostics for not making up their minds whether or not there is a god, since he cannot make up his mind as to which religion is true. Is Jesus a Savior or a prophet? Do we receive multiple lives or just one? Pi does not even consider such questions. He simply wants to “love God.” It frustrated me that Pi lived in the same ambiguity that plagues agnostics, but with just a slightly different flavor.

The ending was simply terrific. It made me reexamine the entire lifeboat experience for symbolism, which was there in abundance once you are looking for it. For those of you who may be confused by the ending, especially Pi’s statement, “and so it is with God,” here is a little thought that may help you out.

I once heard this alternate interpretation of Jesus’ miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. The interpretation states that since there were most likely mothers and children in the crowd, and since any good mother will not travel with her family for long distances without bringing some food along for her children, there was probably food already available in the crowd. The example of Jesus and the disciples sharing all they had inspired the people in the crowd to share all they had, too. Therefore, there was enough for everyone and plenty left over.

Now on first glance, this interpretation seems misleading and even seems to downplay the miracle and insult the Son of God’s power. However, with a little more thought it is truly miraculous. Think about it. What would be harder for God to do – to rearrange molecules or create matter (which He originally did just by SPEAKING, mind you), or to persuade people whom He has graciously granted free-will to happily share the little sustenance that they have with complete strangers? I think the second is more miraculous.

However, the wow factor of the miracle is in the telling of it – the implication of the original interpretation. It’s amazing to us because we, as humans, cannot rearrange or create matter to multiply bread and fish to feed a crowd.

So does this imply deceitfulness on the part of the storyteller? I don’t think so. I think that the way the story is told enhances and amplifies the truth behind the words, just as the right seasoning can enhance and amplify the flavor of a meal. In the end, does it matter whether there were animals or a cannibalistic cook in the lifeboat? Isn’t the result the same? Which story is more beautiful and reveals more of the character of Pi? And ultimately, which story do you prefer?
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
While Mr. Martel has been making waves with his latest release, I finally took the time to read his most famous work, the one for which he earned the Booker Prize. Now that I have finished it, I can honestly say that Life of Pi is worth every accolade it received. This unbelievably fantastic story has so many layers, I have only begun to unravel them all.

The writing is amazing - crisp and clean, every word carefully chosen for maximum impact. The effect is a story that comes alive with no extraneous verbiage. Mr. Mantel provokes the reader's senses with these well-chosen words. Pi's terror/ despair/ joy/ innocence becomes the reader's terror/ despair/ joy/ innocence. The reader can smell the salt air, feel the wind, hear the growls of Richard Parker, see the unending horizon of ocean, and taste the deliciousness that is water when one is dehydrated. Life of Pi is not just a reading pleasure, it becomes an adventure of the senses.

The story itself forces the reader to make his or her own conclusions about religion and about life. Pi's curiosity and unique life perspective is humbling in its simple message of coexistence, with nature and among the various religions. Does Life of Pi make you believe in God, as the narrator suggests? I believe it depends on the individual reader, how faith-driven he or she already is. For me, I remain undecided as to whether God helped keep him alive or if it was his own doing, for I was taught that God helps those who help themselves. No matter what I finally end up believing, I remain in awe of Pi's perserverence. Is is superhuman or the fight or flight instinct that helps him survive?

Two weeks after finishing the book, many questions still remain. Are humans really better than animals? Which of Pi's stories should we believe? Does it matter in the end? Should it matter? Because of this ambiguity, I remain entranced with Pi and his story. There is plenty of food for thought, which I firmly believe is a sign of an excellent book. Answers should never be easy, for we as a society do not learn from the easy answers. In Life of Pi, Mr. Martel provides plenty of questions about life, about religion, about human's place in the world, and about socitey, with very little answers. Finding those answers is part of the enjoyment of the novel. The other part is just sitting back and experiencing Pi's story.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is one of the few books that had me exclaiming aloud, gasping in fear, and other various verbal outbursts. Upon finishing, I thrust it into my husband's hands, demanding that he read it immediately. I only regret I had not read Life of Pi earlier.
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