Saturday, February 5, 2011

Review: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of PiLife of Pi by Yann Martel won the Man Booker Prize in 2002.  And it is easy to see why - I can only imagine the judges were as impressed by the writing and captivated by the story weaved by Martel as I.  I resisted reading this for a long time - I didn't think the story of a boy lost at sea in a boat with a tiger would hold my interest.  I was certainly wrong and this book is about much more than the boy and the tiger.

The narrator is Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi), a teenager living in Pondicherry in India with his parents and brother, Ravi.  His father is a zookeeper and the first part of the book focuses on Pi's life at the zoo and we learn about the animals and the ways in which they interact with humans.  But this is not mere narration - Pi offers insights throughout the narrative.  For example:

I don't mean to defend zoos.  Close them all down if you want (and let us hope what wildlife remains can survive in what is left of the natural world). I know zoos are not in people's good graces.  Religion faces the same problem.  Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.
 Religion is a theme that is often returned to throughout the book but in the first third, in particular, there is a focus on it as Pi begins to explore the great religions of the world.  Raised by parents who did not espouse any religion, Pi is curious about the major religions and approaches them with a naivete and openness which is refreshing.  As a Catholic, I had to laugh at Pi's analogy for God's sacrifice of his Son to save the world from sin:
Humanity sins but it's God's son who pays the price? I tried to imagine father saying to me, "Piscine, a lion slipped into the llama's pen today and killed two llamas.  Yesterday another one killed a black buck. Last week two of them ate a camel. The week before it was painted storks and grey herons . . . The situation has become intolerable. Something must be done. I have decided the only way the lions can atone for their sins is if I feed you to them".
"Yes, father, that would be the right and logical thing to do. Give me a moment to wash up."
His analogy speaks to the absurdity of the core tenets of some religions when you take them absolutely literally.  Without faith and the willingness to accept what you may not understand, the tenets can seem like stories.

Pi proceeds from Christianity to Islam and Hinduism and ultimately adopts all three religions - he can see what is common among all three religions and just wants to love God - the structure by which he does that is less important to him.  Again, a valuable message especially in a world that is torn apart by what divides religions rather than what unites them.

In the next segment of the book, Pi and his family (and the animals who have been sold to zoos in North America) embark of a sea journey to Canada.  His parents have decided to emigrate.  Their boat sinks and Pi lands in a life boat with Richard Parker, a Bengal Tiger.  Pi is lost at sea for seven months and he chronicles his efforts to survive.  He fights for food, water and of course, the tiger.  The story seems unbelievable but it is captivating.

The story takes a surprising turn at the end which I won't go into here so as not to ruin it for anyone that hasn't read it yet but suffice it to say it made me reconsider the entire book.  This is certainly a book you can read multiple times - it is so rich, you would get something additional from it with each read. I highly recommend this book!

24 comments:

  1. This book was a crazy read! I really want to reread it soon, with both options in mind, so I can finally decide what I think happened! I'm not quite ready to believe what it is they suggest I believe. (Hows that for being weird and vague... ;) )

    ReplyDelete
  2. Definitely a book that I must read soon. I've had my eye on it for awhile.

    I'm so behind with the Immigrant Stories Challenge! :(

    ReplyDelete
  3. I loved this book, and the ending really made it for me. I've not re-read it yet, your review made me wonder what it would be like to read it from the beginning knowing how it really ends, how that would effect my reading of it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Loved the audio version of Life of Pi. Nice review

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've always thought what you did about not being interested in a boy lost at sea with a tiger, LOL. But I have read some reviews, this included, that make me reallly want to read this soon!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've put off reading this book for the same reason you did, but what a great review! I'm going to have to rethink this now!

    ReplyDelete
  7. One of my favorite books EVER! And...to this day the most controversial off ALL the books we've read for our book club (going on 8 years)...we still have members taking about it!

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is a book I know I 'should' read, but have been putting it off for years... not sure why. There is a copy in my daughter's bookcase, but maybe I should think about the audio, too.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I really enjoyed this book. I have yet to re-read it, but I certainly mean to. It will be interesting to see how it all works together once you've read it through once.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I always waffle on this book. It's on my TBR, but never gets to the top somehow. Your review has moved it up again!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I loved this book until the ending, and then I felt so cheated. I found the first half of the book much better than the second half, although it seems that most people disagree with me.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I think the surprising turn at the end of the book is meant to test the readers faith. Do you believe what he tells you initially, no matter how ludicrous it seems?

    ReplyDelete
  13. I loved this book. I read it six or seven years ago. I'm trying to get my husband to read it right now. It's on his nightstand but he hasn't made much progress. I may just have to snatch it back and read it again. I'm still not sure which version I believe.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I just purchased this book for my Nook. I'm anxious to start it.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I got this for Christmas and it looks so good!! I can't wait to read it, and this makes me want to read it even more.

    ReplyDelete
  16. The best part about the book is the endless conversation/debate it sparks about what really happened at the end. Nice review - also as a Catholic (though sort of a lapsed one), I also enjoyed the notion of sacrifice. "Give me a moment to wash up." HA!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Glad you enjoyed this one. I thought it was wonderful.

    ReplyDelete
  18. i've been meaning to read this one! glad you liked it!!

    ReplyDelete
  19. I'm so glad you loved this too! I thought it was just wonderful.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Great review! I'm glad you found time to enjoy this modern classic too.

    ReplyDelete
  21. You have a really nice review =) did you know that it will be in 3D adventure film? Something to look forward to either ways. Here's my review by the way: http://lorxiebookreviews.blogspot.com/2012/07/life-of-pi-by-yann-martel.html

    Have a nice day! :)

    ReplyDelete
  22. thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I read it. I plowed and dogged through it while on an international flight. I kept wanting to see what all the fuss was about and was disappointed to realize I'd been hoodwinked by a delusional nut case. The case for spirituality is a contrivance by the sheepels who won't or find it impossible to think for themselves. However, I applaud Mr. Martel for his success.

    regards,
    russel of Renton Auto Body

    ReplyDelete
  24. A book that keeps my nose faithfully between its pages while being read, and makes my mind dwell weeks later, is a book I'd recommend to anyone. One of the most engaging I've read in a long, long time.

    Penelope
    Click here for Wall NJ maid service information

    ReplyDelete