Life of Pi by Yann Martel was originally published in 2001. My paperback copy is 401 pages. Life of Pi is definitely worthy of the 2002 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. When Life of Pi was originally published and rave reviews started to come pouring in, I dismissed them because I thought that the idea of a story about a boy and tiger in a boat seemed silly. Life of Pi is about so much more. I need to go on record saying I loved this book and recommend it very highly with a rating of 5.
The book is divided into three parts. Part one opens with Pi Patel's youth in Pondicherry, India, where his father serves as the keeper of the town's zoo. It is in this first part that we learn many important facts that will come into play later. Although the pace might seem slow to some, I found it quite interesting. It is in the first part that we learn of Pi's fascination with religion. Much to the bemusement of his parents, he becomes a practitioner of Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. With a passionate belief in one God, Pi has a disdain for agnostics.
In part two, which makes up most of the book, the ship transporting Pi's family and many of the zoo animals to Canada sinks. Pi survives on a lifeboat that also contains an injured zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Most of the book involves Pi's survival at sea for 227 days in a lifeboat with a deadly Bengal tiger. The Tiger can either just be a tiger or it can symbolize many things to different readers.
Part three is a very abbreviated, humorous section involving Pi's questioning at the hands of two Japanese Ministry of Transport officials looking for the cause of the ship's sinking. Their complete disbelief at his first account of surviving with the tiger leads him to tell them a second more brutal account of his survival. In the end Life of Pi does not tell us which account is true. It is left for the reader to decide which account to believe. I think Life of Pi sets up the ultimate question and struggle of faith versus reason. Pi's first story is incredible, fantastic, but hard to believe despite all the evidence that it occurred exactly as he described it (just as some Biblical stories are hard to believe). Pi's second account is brutal, but more believable in some ways even though it dismisses evidence to the contrary.
"My majors were religious studies and zoology." pg. 3
"Sometimes I got my majors mixed up. A number of my fellow religious-studies students - muddled agnostics who didn't know which way was up, who were in the thrall of reason, that fool's gold for the bright - reminded me of the three-toed sloth; and the three-toed sloth, such a beautiful example of the miracle of life, reminded me of God." pg. 5
"I love Canada...It is a great country much too cold for good sense, inhabited by compassionate, intelligent people with bad hairdos." pg. 7
"To chose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation." pg. 36
"All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it no species would survive." pg. 51
"Hediger (1950) says, 'When two creatures meet, the one that is able to intimidate its opponent is recognized as socially superior, so that a social decision does not always depend on a fight; and encounter in some circumstances may be enough.' " pg. 55
"We are all born like Catholics, aren't we - in limbo, without religion, until some figure introduces us to God? After that meeting the matter ends for most of us." pg. 58
"There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people will walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, 'Business as usual.' But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.
These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves....The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defence, not God's, that the self-righteous should rush." pg. 89-90
"...I discovered at that moment that I have a fierce will to live. It's not something evident, in my experience. Some of us give up on life with only a resigned sigh. Others fight a little, then lose hope. Still others - and I am one of those - never give up. We fight and fight and fight." pg. 186
"The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. I would go on loving." pg. 264
This is my favorite novel. I got Martel to blog with my students at our class site: scholarlynx.blogspot.com. We also blogged with Andrea Offermann and Tomislav Torjanac, two premier artists who create Life of Pi images. It was terrific!
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