Friday, October 29, 2010

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I have been meaning to read Life of Pi for years. I had great hopes that I could convince my library book club to read it, but I’ve given up hope. I’m a part of The Classics Challenge, which has a neat twist of having you read a “bonus” book from the challenge participants’ list of modern books that “should be” classics. Life of Pi was on the “should be” classics list, and I chose it for my bonus book.

Life of Pi was a riveting novel that I literally kept me up all night (while nursing a newborn!). The entire story is unique, intriguing, and thought provoking. It transports you to another world with its fantastic storytelling.

Pi Patel has a mostly idyllic youth spent in India. As a teenager he decides to practice the Hindu, Christian, and Muslim faiths. His family owns the Pondicherry Zoo. After Pi’s father can no longer stand the political atmosphere in India, he decides to have the entire family immigrate to Canada. He sells the zoo lock, stock, and barrel. Many of the animals are sold to zoos in America. The Patel family and many of the zoo animals board a ship to North America. Unfortunately, the ship sinks and Pi finds himself alone on a life raft, alone except for the presence of a zebra, hyena, orangutan, and a tiger (named Richard Thomas).

Eventually Richard Thomas and Pi are all that remain. Pi must find a way to survive on the raft with a tiger and try to make it to safety. While Life of Pi is a great survival story, it is also a fantastic story about storytelling and religion. Do we need religion? Can we suspend our disbelieve in stories not based in science in order to believe in something better than ourselves? It was definitely a novel that has kept me thinking.

Spoiler Alert!!

I loved the ending of the novel and how Pi tells the interviewers his story and then gives them a second story more based in “reality”. At the end he asks the interviewers which story they believe and they respond “the story with animals is the better story.” Pi answers “Thank you. And so it goes with God.”

I think Pi is saying here that to believe in God is to believe in the “better story” than atheists who just believe in science. The interviewers have to suspend their initial disbelieve in order to believe in Pi’s animal story. If you were first coming into a new religion, you might also have to suspend your disbelief. What did other readers think about this section of the book?

I also couldn’t help but think about Pi’s second story. It did seem the most logical. It could also be thought that Pi experienced such emotional devastation that he needed the first story in order to handle it. And he split his violent persona into “Richard Parker” that had to commit acts of violence to survive. Any thoughts?

Spoiler End.

Overall, I loved this book. It was my “bonus book” or seventh and final read for The Classics Challenge for 2010.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library


  1. I read this a while ago and liked it for its absolute surprises! they kept popping up the whole way through the book. Now on to his Beatrice and Virgil.

  2. I loved this book a lot, I thought it was very special. I especially liked the way the book ended.

    I don't agree with what you said about the ending though: "I think Pi is saying here that to believe in God is to believe in the “better story” than atheists who just believe in science."

    I don't think Martel meant the ending to be so value laden. I don't think he was saying that believing in religion is "better" than not doing so.

    I think what he was trying to say is something even bigger - it's a comment on choice, choice of faith, choice of religion, choice of lifestyle. We choose to believe what suits us, what our minds and hearts and souls allow us to.

    Its about being true to ourselves and our beliefs, not comparing our beliefs to others and feeling that we are right and they are wrong.

    It was a very special message.

    I am looking forward to reading Beatirce and Virgil too, although I have heard bad reviews.