The Life of Pi by Yann Martel – book review

By Emma Brooks

About the author:

Yann Martel is a Canadian author, best known for “The Life of Pi” which won the Man Booker Prize in 2002. He grew up in various different countries across the world, including Mexico, France, Costa Rica and Canda, as well as visiting India on his travels. He finally decided to settle in Canada, where he still lives today. From 2007 – 2011 he undertook a curious project called “What is Stephen Harper reading”, where he decided to send the Prime Minister of Canada a book every two weeks, accompanied by a letter from Yann Martel himself.

About the book

The Life of Pi is a brilliant book that tells us the story of young Pi, actually named Piscine Molitor Patel, named after a famous – and now abandoned – swimming pool, in Paris. Pi is Indian and grew up in Pondicherry, where his father owned a zoo. Pi is therefore constantly surrounded by animals, and it is unsurprising that he should have chosen to study zoology at university. Alongside this, he also follows religious studies, a theme that will become recurrent in the book.

We are very early on introduced to a character named Richard Parker, someone who has obviously played an important part in Pi’s life. Pi speaks of him as someone that he loves and misses. It is therefore quite surprising when we discover that Richard Parker is in fact a Bengal Tiger. So how is that Pi ends up becoming so linked to the tiger Richard Parker? Surely it can’t only be related to his having grown up around the zoo…

Pi’s family decided to move to Canada due to political reasons in India. They pack everything up, including some of the animals from the zoo, and decide to make the move together on a small Japanese freighter. However, half way through the trip disaster strikes and the ship sinks. This is how Pi suddenly ends up in a small lifeboat, along with Richard Parker the tiger, a hyena, a zebra and an orangutan. Little by little the other animals eat each other to survive, leaving only Richard Parker and Pi left on the boat.

Pi starts fishing so as to feed himself and the tiger, and convince the tiger not to eat him. He decides to establish a relationship as the alpha male with Richard Parker. We realise that although Pi is scared of the tiger, he also feels linked to him, as without him he would be all alone in the middle of the ocean with no company. Eventually, after many days of floating out at sea, the pair come upon a magical island, full of edible plants and water. Not sure whether this is part of a delusion after having spent so many days at sea, or reality, Pi and Richard Parker finally drift on and end up in Mexico where they are both rescued.

The Life of Pi is a quirky tale, mixing reality with fantasy, putting Pi in a very realistic situation of being a shipwrecked young boy lost at sea, yet putting him in the unrealistic position of being with a tiger. Not only that, Yann Martel manages to tackle the subject of religion, as Pi is a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim. Raised as a Hindu, Pi is introduced to Christianity and Islam at a young age and begins to follow all three religions as best he can, because he is intrigued by, and believes in all three. Ultimately, his goal is simply to be with God, regardless of through which religion. It seems implausible and yet it is a touching account of how a young boy manages to see past the usual differences associated with religion, and instead bring them together.

It is a touching, intriguing and sometimes scary story, which keeps surprising us with odd facts and moments which manage to keep us hooked until the very end. Not only that, but it includes an element of travel as well as being originally set abroad in India, allowing all readers with a traveller’s heart to find themselves engulfed in the book.

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