The Life of Pi ~ Yann Martel

  • Title: Life of PI
  • Author: Yann Martel
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Source: Kindle
  • Reviewed by: Mark, Guest Reviewer
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Life of Pi  is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe.

Review:  The novel ‘Life of Pi’ was only on my distant radar, until I saw the stunning scenes of this mega-3d movie made by Ang-lee. Of course, I wanted to go ‘book first, movie second’, since the other way around just doesn’t work as well, so I jumped into the novel to free myself to see the movie.

The Life of PI is the story of a young man who is a religious studies and zoology major in college. He sees truths and beauty in 3 major religions so chooses to follow them all. This spiritual world gets hammered and tested when a shipwreck leaves him lost at sea on a lifeboat along with some of the animals his father was transporting to sell to other zoos.

The novel was simply tremendous. The writing was both easily digestible and yet filled with deeper implications. Piscine’s, or “Pi’s” thought patterns were intriguing, including his initial inquisitiveness and near naivety before the shipwreck, to his brain’s struggle for survival and the delirium that follows, to his post-rescue riddling of the insurance representatives investigating the cause of the crash. (This is not a spoiler, since the reader knows right up front that Pi survives.)

This novel can be read simply for an action, intrigue, and the survival story which rivals any other, but my guess is there are tons of English professors who would love to see their students turn in papers with the following as subjects:

~Symbolism of the Hyena, the Orangutan, the Frenchman, and especially, Richard Parker The Tiger. Does the tiger represent fear, nature, the Id and savagery of man, childhood demons conquered? (‘you’re going to be a goat fed to the tiger,’ his brother had warned him as a child.)

~Compare the Tiger in Life of Pi to the volleyball ‘Wilson’ in Castaway. Okay, you may just get some laughs and nothing higher than a B+ if you write this paper.

~Compare and contrast life on land, on the boat, and on the island.

~Role of carnivores versus omnivores in the novel.

~Nature of storytelling itself.

The power of stories as providing meaning and creating larger than life myths are referred to throughout the book, and how their power fuels spiritual faith. (Pi laments the lack of more grandiose stories in Christianity). Does belief in a story make it more or less true? When you are trying to tell the truth, is it best to do so in Fiction?

Ah, to be in school again and spend hours writing such a paper into the wee hours of the night. Good for me, I can just enjoy and think as deep or shallow as I’d like.

Among many others, one thing that has stuck with me is the things Pi had to do to get by. Eating animals as part of survival is described as both barbaric and instinctual, and the degree of Pi’s desperate hunger leads to desperate measures. While reading, I made some out loud gasps at some of the ways Pi survived, causing others in the room with me to turn their heads and wonder what was on my kindle.

But upon completing the novel and still savoring its taste, I found myself noticing all the food I waste and imagining what I would eat ‘if I really had to’. Like Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” Life of Pi maybe aimed for the heart but accidently hit the stomach as well.

The odd thing is, many readers will discuss back and forth what was real and what wasn’t real in the novel, but I like to believe, as I think the author and Pi himself believe, that it doesn’t matter and it misses the point. Truth exists in the eye of the storyteller and the observer, and in the mind of the reader, so if you read about it, saw it in your minds eye, then it happened.

This novel fired on all cylinders, and I’m going to be waving it under the noses of readers everywhere. And just like Tom Hanks who missed Wilson, and Pi who misses his tiger, I miss reading this novel each night. At least I still have the movie.

Mark Matthews is the author of STRAY and The Jade Rabbit. He blogs at Running, Writing, and Chasing the Dragon.


One thought on “The Life of Pi ~ Yann Martel

  1. Pingback: [Book Review] Life of Pi (2001) by Yann Martel | The Grand Shuckett

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