What’s it all about?:
Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel – known as Pi – has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practice three religions – Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.
But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen, his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest of travelling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker’s next meal.
What did I think?:
I first read this book about ten years ago in 2002 when it was first published and won the Man Booker prize. Reading it then, I didn’t much care for it at all, and couldn’t see the point. However, reading it ten years older (and perhaps a bit wiser?) the book has done a complete turn around for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have heard that some people enjoyed the second part of the novel more than the first, but I have to disagree. Part One introduced us to the wonderful world of Pi – a boy who practices three different religions at once (well, why not?) and whose father is a zookeeper. I wasn’t sure about the religious undertones, and I think this was probably why I didn’t “get” the book first time round, but I actually found a greater appreciation for it this time and thought it all a bit mysterious and intriguing. One of the funniest parts of the book is when Pi happens to bump into all three of his religious masters at once – “No, this boy is a good Christian!” “No, a Hindu!” “No, a Muslim!”
The second part of the novel, post shipwreck, is so beautifully drawn the reader can almost imagine that they are right there on that lifeboat with Richard Parker, (BRILLIANT name for a tiger) going through all the challenges that one faces when sharing an enclosed space with a grumpy man-eater. I am really looking forward to seeing the film now, but was determined to give the book one more try and I’m so glad I did. The author in an interview describes how he was inspired to write this novel by speaking to an Indian man in a coffee house who told him he had a story for him that would make him believe in God. And as the story concludes, we are left with the message that it is the more imaginative tale which may hold the most truth.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):