Reader Review by cloggie-downunder
Life of Pi is the second novel by Canadian author Yann Martel. It tells the story the 227-day ordeal, in a lifeboat with a 450 pound Royal Bengal tiger, of a sixteen-year-old Indian youth, Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi). It is told in three parts: Pi’s youth in Pondicherry at his father’s zoo and the Patel family’s decision to emigrate to Canada; the sinking of the ship and Pi’s sojourn on the lifeboat; and Pi’s interview by officials from the Japanese Ministry of Transport, in an Infirmary in Mexico; the author’s notes about his meetings with Pi, the Japanese official who interviewed Pi and the family friend of the Patel’s who first alerted him to the story, lend an authenticity to the novel. Martel’s story touches on theology, zoology, human behaviour, sanity and the will to survive, and his meticulous research into his subjects is apparent in every chapter. With lyrical prose, Martel describes Pi’s encounters with fish, turtles, birds and whales, as well as the quality of the sky, the sea and the wind. Pi’s experience with the floating algae island proves that anything that seems too good to be true, usually is. My favourite scene was the encounter on the seaside esplanade of Pi’s parents, the pundit, the imam and the priest, especially the effect of Pi’s last words on the holy men. The objections that the incredulous Japanese officials cite to Pi’s fantastic story are quite amusing; the alternate version that Pi offers them, on the other hand, is certainly sobering. Martel’s imagery is evocative: “I believe it was this that saved my life that morning, that I was quite literally dying of thirst. Now that the word had popped into my head I couldn’t think of anything else, as if the word itself were salty and the more I thought of it, the worse the effect.” And he occasionally has Pi very succinctly describing his predicament: “...to be a castaway is to be caught up in grim and exhausting opposites….” , “Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life.” There is horror in this story, but also much humanity and humour is laced throughout. Highly original, funny and thought-provoking.