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Life of Pi: A Novel ()

Booker Prize Winners

Read Orrin's interview with Yann Martel

    Well-meaning but misinformed people think animals in the wild are "happy" because they are "free".  [...] The life of the wild animal is simple,
    noble and meaningful they imagine.  Then it is captured by wicked men and thrown into tiny jails.  Its "happiness" is dashed.  It yearns
    mightily for "freedom" and does all it can to escape.  Being denied its "freedom" for too long, the animal becomes a shadow of itself, its spirit
    broken.  So some people imagine.

    This is not the way it is.

    Animals in the wild lead lives of compulsion and necessity within an unforgiving social hierarchy in an environment where the supply of fear
    is high and the supply of food low and where territory must constantly be defended and parasites forever endured.  What is the meaning of
    freedom in such a context?
        -Life of Pi

Whatever else it may be, and it may be a fable or a hallucination or something altogether beyond our ken, Canadian author Yann Martel's Life of Pi is an absolutely mesmerizing bit of storytelling, one that will keep you reading from cover to cover without a pause.  Within, he tells the story, framed by author's comments which suggest it is a true story, of an Indian boy, Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel, named for a swimming pool in Paris, who spent a thoroughly improbable, though entirely compelling, 227 days (from July 2, 1977 to February 14th, 1978)  lost at sea in a lifeboat with a 450 pound Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker.

Boy and tiger were originally on board a Japanese freighter that was transporting them and the Patel family along with numerous other animals to Canada, to which the Patels were transplanting themselves and their zoo, from Pondicherry, India to escape political unrest.  A zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, some rats, and a few cockroaches survived the initial sinking, but not Richard Parker's predations.  Only Pi and the tiger eventually made it to Mexico, where they washed up on a beach before Richard Parker disappeared. During their time in the lifeboat, and on a makeshift raft that Pi made himself, to put some distance between himself and the big cat, transpired a remarkable story of survival and of natural selection in all its gory glory.

It is a story, as an old man in India told the author, "that will make you believe in God".  Or, maybe it isn't.  Maybe it's the kind of story that will make you believe in the human need to tell stories in order to make sense of our existence, an animal story told by the most dangerous of all the animals, but nonetheless the one animal that tells story and that knows God.  Or maybe it's just a fairy tale.  At any rate, it's a terrifically readable and enjoyable novel (?) and Pi Patel, a Hindu/Muslim/Christian--who when he swears says "Jesus, Mary, Mohammed and Vishnu!" and who's felt the presence of God--seems certain to become one of the most fondly remembered narrator/heroes of modern fiction.


Grade: (A)


Yann Martel Links:

    -INTERVIEW: Lunch with the FT: Yann Martel (Rahul Jacob, May 30 2003, Financial Times)
    -PROFILE: Yann Martel's life after Pi: Yann Martel’s struggle to follow up his global breakthrough (Mark Medley, 4/09/10, National Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Randy Boyagoda, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Beatrice and Virgil: A Novel by Yann Martel (Susan Salter Reynolds, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Beatrice and Virgil (Clea Simon, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW: of Beatrice and Virgil (the Tablet)
    -REVIEW: of Beatrice and Virgil ()
    -REVIEW: of Beatrice and Virgil ()
    -REVIEW: of Beatrice and Virgil ()

Book-related and General Links:
    -Yann Martel (Random House)
    -BIO : Yann Martel (Opening Night)
    -EXCERPT : from Life of Pi
    -ARTICLE : Veterans vie with newcomer in Booker prize stakes (John Ezard, The Guardian, 19 August, 2002)
    -ARTICLE: Scandal factors into 'Pi' equation (Deirdre Donahue, 11/11/02, USA TODAY)
    -PROFILE: When greatness is thrust upon them: Will the Booker Prize be the making of Yann Martel or the ruin of him? (Tom Payne, 26/10/2002, Daily Telegraph)
    -PROFILE: A life as simple as Pi (Emily Bearn, 30/10/2002, Daily Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: For Canada's Top Novelists, Being Born Abroad Helps: A good many if not a majority of the leading lights of Canadian letters today are immigrants, including the three finalists for the Booker Prize this year. (NY Times, 11/05/02)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES : Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Reviews of Books)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Gary Krist, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Francie Lin, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Judith Palmer, Independent)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Suzy Hansen, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Tim Adams, The Observer)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Justine Jordan, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Life of Pi (James Wood, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Iain Sharp, Stuff)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Padma Viswanathan, Montreal Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Jonathan Kiefer, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Toby Clements, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Bryan Walsh, TIME)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Stein Haukland, Ink 19)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (David Flood, Seattle Times)
   -AWARD: Canadian Yann Martel Wins Book Prize (AP, 10/22/02)
   -PROFILE: God, the devil, and the deep blue sea: Novelist Yann Martel talks matters of faith in 'Life of Pi' (Todd Leopold, October 21, 2002, CNN)


Very good book! maybe a little far-fetched (ok maybe a lot) but that is where you have to use your imagination. Imagination is a key word in this book. You have to have a great deal to read it. i advise you to have a boost in imagination before you read this. Warning: do not read this book unless you have a imagination!

- Ravi Shah

- Jul-28-2005, 03:14


In my words this book was magnificent! i couldn't of wrote hit Pi used to say "hit it Papu!"

- Ravi Shah

- Jul-28-2005, 03:09


Kev.- The first part is to establish the magical realism aspect of the story. By telling you he met a friend of Pi's and acting as though he is retelling you the story you are supposed to believe that this story is true. Many people do, until they get to the carnivorous island part and then they realize that it has to be fiction. I have thoughts on the can see them in my other post.

- Meredith

- Mar-09-2005, 21:29


My thoughts on this book are good, but what role do you think is played by "supplementary stories" - the initial "authors note" before the story proper begins, and the "alternative story" offered by Pi to his interrogators at the end? can anyone explain how they relate to the main story,

- Kev.

- Feb-03-2005, 13:12


I had to read this book for my grade 11 English class this year. It took me less then 24 hours to read the book for the sole reason, that I wanted to get it over with. I loved the beginning when he spoke of his life as a child, but once he hit the water, it was horribly over graphic and a bit boring. I know that you'll agrue that there are only so many ways to write about a 17-year-old boy on the water for a hundered some odd years, and yet I couldn't help feeling a bit bored at times, such as when he learned to fish and train the tiger. It picked up at a few points, such as when he reached the carnevoris island, but all in all it was a bit dull. Yann Martel can certainly tell a story and he has a gift for realistic detail, but unfortunity he had to use it for this book.

- nat

- Jan-17-2005, 18:30


I thought that Martel was trying to simulate a religious experience for the reader, and that was how he meant this to be a story that will make you believe in God. After becoming invested in Pi, and in this story, we hear another story, without animals. The reader must now choose, like the Pi asks the Japanese investigators, either the "dry, yeastless factuality," and "throw the universe out with the bathwater," and "to the very end, lack the imagination and miss the better story," or take a leap of faith by choosing the animal story and in turn, with God. He talks to the Japanese men like they are in doubt. In the end we see that they too choose to believe. Am I totally off base here?

- Mere

- Oct-19-2004, 12:43


Please please PLEASE!! I NEED to know if it was true - I have read a million reviews on-line, and it's driving me crazy. I really liked the book, but was there really a Pi in real life who was ship-wrecked with a tiger??? Where can I find more about this? I am a woman in need!

- Emma-Jane

- Feb-18-2003, 02:09


This is a novel that will stay with me like a hangover for a looooong time! Very thought-provoking...I LOVED it and would highly recommend it to anyone who likes to chew on a novel like a good bone. (John, that was a METAPHOR)


- Christina

- Jan-18-2003, 20:04


John - I must say that if you thought this book was rubbish, you clearly didn't "get it". This is not about what sort of story it was, or which creatures were on the boat. Get yourself an education and then you can comment on this masterpiece

- Mich

- Jan-18-2003, 17:59


Very thought provoking,will make all readers look deeper into the stories from the bible,and any religious folklore or mysticism.If you " get it ",in life,you'll love this book.

- c par

- Jan-16-2003, 11:27


I stayed up until 2:00 am last night finishing this book and couldn't fall asleep until about 4:30. Utterly delightful, with the disturbing alternative story at the end to give this the appeal of the combination of sweet and salt.

I bought two copies of this novel to give as holiday gifts on the strength of Orrin's author interview. I hope he is able to continue adding more interviews.

- Andrew Geller

- Jan-11-2003, 08:46


I loved the book, but does anyone know any more about the fact that Martell apparently plagarized the story from a Brazilian novel written in 1981?

- teresa

- Jan-02-2003, 14:00


sorry, John, that should have been "barmy"...

- Duncan

- Nov-26-2002, 08:19


Not all reviews are good. The London Review of Books gave Pi a mediocre review. Obviously it won't please everyone: John obviously found the story hard to believe and the author "bonkers"... I happen to like magical realism (Bulgakov, Victor Pelevin...) so found this very easy to believe and a cracking story. Pi is a little too cute for my liking, but other than that I think it would be a real shame to miss this book.

- Duncan Sinclair

- Nov-26-2002, 08:18


Could it make you belive in god?. Without a shadow of a doubt , not only the struggle pi endured for his and richard parker's surrvival and the wonderful innocence and openness he brings on his journey of discovery into his own spirituality . But just when you think life is shit sometimes some can write a book like this with such beauty and imagination that in a sence it almost saves your life and this is where it can really make one belive in GOD. So Yann Martel thank you so much for creating

- ronan from dublin

- Nov-25-2002, 10:07


A brilliant read, fantastic, well written page turner of a story (I read it with begrudged breaks within 48 hours). Ending gives the whole story a fantastic twist; what actually happened?

Definite recommend. Don't listen to John.

- Tim

- Nov-12-2002, 02:13


not a story that makes you believe in god, but certainly one that makes you think seriously about the concept of god, of humanity, the fundamental differences between humans and animals and the importance of creativity and imagination to the well-being of the psyche. martel's imagery and metaphores are refreshingly original. although not a funny book, occasionally you laugh out loud. a page-turner and although thoroughly increadible, you end up believing in it! it is a really sad blow when pi's 2nd story comes out... a recommended read.

- chloe in gloucestershire

- Nov-11-2002, 11:21


The Life of Pi is a great book involving themes concerning the limits of fiction in relation to non-fiction, as well as the benefits of an individual's ability to believe something without the need to ponder its validity. The author's parallels between humans and animals are interesting, and I must say that the carniverous algae island inhabitted by a whole fucking society of meerkats was utterly incredible. Those fuckers were everywhere!

- Bulby

- Nov-05-2002, 15:37


Everyone is sorry in this world. No normal people in this world. The author of the book must have been barmy to write it about animals and humans shipwrecked.

- John

- Nov-05-2002, 08:20


I meant to put book review. Sorry


- Nov-05-2002, 08:19


I hated the book and you make it sound like a good horror story. It's rubbish. I'll put that horrible book on the bonfire tonight. I waste my time going on book reviews because you always say that the book was good. It always gets "It's a good book".

- John

- Nov-05-2002, 08:18


I enjoyed the book "Life of Pi" and I think your book does it justice.

- Jess C

- Nov-05-2002, 08:13