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Life of Pi Book Review
book by Yann Martel
Life of Pi, by Canadian writer Yann Martel, is a greatly colorful and original book which takes place in 3 different places: the last in Mexico, the first in India, and the middle section, the true highlight of the book, on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean.
"Pi" is short for Piscine Molitor Patel. Piscine is French for "swimming pool," a foreshadowing of his entrance into the greatest pool on Earth. But first, India.
Pi practically grew up in a zoo, the property of his family. To this end, he grows up with a working knowledge of zoology. However, his interest is in religion. He explores two of the major religions of India, Hinduism and Islam, along with a third, Christianity. He is quite adamant about learning about human ideas of God; as well, he is quite accepting of all opinions. This is a reflection of just how precocious Pi is, and is especially marked by an incident in which each of his teachers of the 3 respected religions happen upon his parents, him, and each other, simultaneously. Each holy man trumps the others' religious ideals that results in the stalemate seen in history. The moment is almost comical (and possibly reflects the Humanist idea that humanity trumps religion).
Religion and the search for life's meaning becomes a paramount part to Pi's existence throughout the story, and is especially palpable in the second part of the novel. Reflective of this religious searching comes humorously and memorably on page 97 and elsewhere, where Pi calls out the exclamation “Jesus, Mary, Muhammad And Vishnu!”
However, it is not only religion which is important to the tale, as when the politics of India take a sudden change and Patel's father deems it best that they leave their native land. Some months later, the family has embarked onto the open sea, headed for Canada. Tragedy strikes and the heart of the story begins.
Pi's ship sinks and he finds himself in a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan, and a 3 year old, 350-pound Bengal Tiger. As is standard for the book, there is always something interesting said or considered throughout nearly every page. In the case of the tiger, his name is not Shere Khan (of Jungle Book fame) or anything like this, as one might expect. Rather, his name is Richard Parker, a name whose genesis is as interest-filled as the rest of the tale.
There is also, to pique the reader's curiosity, a very special part to the story involving an island. It is an island like none other -a botanical curiosity, as the narrator points out. This section of the story will have you laughing, surprised, extremely curious, and even horrified at points. This, in my estimation, is one of the 3 or 4 highest of highlights in the tale.
All-told, Pi and Richard Parker are on the lifeboat for 227 days of hell, desolation, desperation, and further spiritual awakening. And lots, and lots of salt water and sun.
The Ending (minus any spoiler)
The third part of Life of Pi is the part that may put some readers off a bit. Without giving away too much, it is sufficient to say that this is where the entire tale becomes unexpected, unraveled, possibly even disappointing for many, and certainly surprising. It does, however, continue the understanding that the reader has that Pi is truly an intelligent, even remarkable young man. As well, it is in the final part of the book that the truly literary aspect shines most resplendently. However, a few of the characters "give away" the analysis of the book, much as a literary critic might. This offers both an open window of understanding for those who simply don't "get" the premise of the story, while simultaneously overstating the tale's meaning to everyone else. In a word, the author somewhat infringes upon the readers' intelligences, whether purposely or not. However, there are enough separate layers that at least 2 or 3 students out there may just garner their literary doctorates by examining Life of Pi. For the rest of us, it is a tale that will fill our waking moments for weeks after closing the book.
While Life of Pi is not great literature, it is fine literature, and is certainly a great species of storytelling; it's the kind of book you'll want to read after scanning The Old Man and the Sea -or better still, after reading Moby Dick (as Life of Pi is much more upbeat). You will not forget this tale anytime soon. Buy this book! You will enjoy it and enjoy telling others about it, just before they beg you to loan it to them --or you beg them to borrow and read it.