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Review: Life of Pi, Yann Martel

life of piPiscine Patel is the young son of an Indian zookeeper. A deeply religious boy, he loves every sign of God, even in the animals that his father keeps. When Pi’s family is forced to leave their native India and move to Canada, many of the zoo’s animals in tow on a massive industrial boat, Pi is alternately excited and devastated. When the ship sinks, though, and Pi must battle for his life, devastation, survival, and even religion take on new meaning.

Life of Pi is a book that I had kicking around for more than four years, knowing that other people had loved it but somehow never making the time to read it for myself. The release of the film, and the possibility that I might see a film before I’d read the book that inspired it (gasp), led me to finally pick it up and see for myself what all the fuss was about. What I found was perhaps the first book featuring magical realism that I’ve enjoyed and a striking tale about survival and stories and, in the end, true meaning and whether or not it matters.

I admit that I was a bit perplexed when I first started reading. Nearly a third of the book takes place before Pi has even left India and a surprising chunk of that part of the book is consumed by his religious nature. He decides that he believes in Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, praying and taking mentors for each religion. He just wants to worship God, and all ways of worshipping God are sacred to him, an idea which I found fascinating but which didn’t seem related to the part of the book that I knew about, which was the part where he is on a lifeboat with a tiger.

It all makes perfect sense in the end, fortunately, and I think what Martel is trying to comment on is really the nature of story. If you read to the end of the book, he offers two explanations for what happened to Pi on the lifeboat, but it doesn’t really matter what truly happened. Either explanation can be true; one just requires more of a leap of faith than the other. In such a way, religions require that leap of faith, that belief, but at the core of them, the stories are human. I’m an atheist myself but I found the whole story and the end fascinating. It wasn’t what I’d expected at all, and I immediately felt that this is a book I’d like to talk about in a lot more depth, which might take on new significance the more it’s considered.

Regardless of how you take the story within this book’s pages, it’s a moving portrayal of Pi’s spirit and will to survive in the face of elements clearly much larger than he is. Definitely a book worth reading – and now I’m looking forward to seeing the film!

All external book links are affiliate links. I purchased this book.

8 comments to Review: Life of Pi, Yann Martel

  • Bookgazing

    I’ve spoken to people who think it’s obvious that the second story if the true one and that the story indicates dislikes for the way people prefer to belief a beautiful story over the truth (and critiques religion through this stance). But I came to this novel as a fantasy reader, well acquainted with the possibility that really bizare things can truthfully happen in books that feel realistic in other ways. How did you feel about the tiger being a fantasy/SF reader too?

    • Meghan

      Jodie – I definitely didn’t think that, and in fact I didn’t really think that something like the second story would happen at all. I just assumed it would be magical realism throughout the book to be honest, and that’s one of the reasons I never picked it up, because I don’t tend to like what’s commonly described as “magical realism” even though I love fantasy. I liked the fact that the author put out the possibility of both, but I never assumed that just because the other story was something that could have happened meant that it had to be the “true” meaning. That’s really interesting – I’m going to have to ask more people that I know who’ve read this book what they thought!

  • I have owned this book for years but still never even read the first page!
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  • You liked this more than I did. I’m beginning to think I’m not smart enough for it because it left me confused. Maybe if I’d had someone to talk to about it after I finished it, I would have enjoyed it more.
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  • I haven’t read much about it beyond the basic plot (and some of that’s come from film trailers) but I’m very interested in the symbolism you speak of and the magical realism. Obviously a tiger and child on a small boat doesn’t sound quite realistic, but I didn’t know about the associations.
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  • I’ve had this one on my shelf for years, too. I stioll can’t decided if I want to read it or not.
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  • I thought the book was better than the movie, as the book is one of my favorites, but some of the scenes in the movie were just breathtaking. It really is an amazing book about faith, and whichever ending you choose to believe in, the story is one of remarkable resilience, and meticulous plotting and characterization. Loved this review today. Now, get yourself to the movies!!
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  • Of course I have heard all the hype about this book because of the film, yet this is the first review I’ve read of the book! Before now I’ve seen the film trailers with no idea what the book was meant to be about. I am going to have to add this to my wish list now. I am a Christian but I am also really interested in all faiths so this sounds like it would be a very interesting read for me.
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