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Life of Pi [Paperback]

Yann Martel
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (245 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 10 2002
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.

Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel -- known as Pi -- has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practise three religions -- Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.

But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest of travelling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker’s next meal.

As the days pass, Pi fights both boredom and terror by throwing himself into the practical details of surviving on the open sea -- catching fish, collecting rain water, protecting himself from the sun -- all the while ensuring that the tiger is also kept alive, and knows that Pi is the key to his survival. The castaways face gruelling pain in their brushes with starvation, illness, and the storms that lash the small boat, but there is also the solace of beauty: the rainbow hues of a dorado’s death-throes, the peaceful eye of a looming whale, the shimmering blues of the ocean’s swells. Hope is fleeting, however, and despite adapting his religious practices to his daily routine, Pi feels the constant, pressing weight of despair. It is during the most hopeless and gruelling days of his voyage that Pi whittles to the core of his beliefs, casts off his own assumptions, and faces his underlying terrors head-on.

As Yann Martel has said in one interview, “The theme of this novel can be summarized in three lines. Life is a story. You can choose your story. And a story with an imaginative overlay is the better story.” And for Martel, the greatest imaginative overlay is religion. “God is a shorthand for anything that is beyond the material -- any greater pattern of meaning.” In Life of Pi, the question of stories, and of what stories to believe, is front and centre from the beginning, when the author tells us how he was led to Pi Patel and to this novel: in an Indian coffee house, a gentleman told him, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” And as this novel comes to its brilliant conclusion, Pi shows us that the story with the imaginative overlay is also the story that contains the most truth.

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From Amazon

Serious novels about young boys being drawn closer to God while trapped on lifeboats with dangerous wild animals ought to be impossible. Life of Pi, Yann Martel's second novel, proves they're not. Its plot stretches the limits of credibility into new and exciting shapes, and the fact that Martel has made his materials into an enchanting story is almost unbelievable. Martel's Pi is Piscine Molitor Patel, a boy from Pondicherry, one of the few Indian towns to be colonized by France. Pi is an intelligent, unusual child: he has a scientific turn of mind but is also a practising Hindu, Moslem, and Christian. Pi's family runs a large zoo, but they decide to sell their animals to zoos in the United States and emigrate to Canada. Crossing the Pacific (with their animals), they're shipwrecked halfway between China and Midway. Pi survives, only to find himself sharing a lifeboat with an injured zebra, a spotted hyena, an orangutan, and Richard Parker--an immense Bengal tiger.

Most of these animals are doomed, but Pi and Richard Parker cling to life, establishing a tacit order on the lifeboat. Martel handles this part of the story perfectly: one would expect Life of Pi to become cute, or perhaps preachy, but it is neither. Life on the boat proceeds in strict accordance with the rules of ecology and territorialism, and the interdependence of the passengers is both believable and absorbing. Life of Pi is a superb novel, both for its story and for its rich examinations of religion, isolation, and love. If this is an indication of what is to come, we can expect great things from Yann Martel. --Jack Illingworth

From Publishers Weekly

A fabulous romp through an imagination by turns ecstatic, cunning, despairing and resilient, this novel is an impressive achievement "a story that will make you believe in God," as one character says. The peripatetic Pi (ne the much-taunted Piscine) Patel spends a beguiling boyhood in Pondicherry, India, as the son of a zookeeper. Growing up beside the wild beasts, Pi gathers an encyclopedic knowledge of the animal world. His curious mind also makes the leap from his native Hinduism to Christianity and Islam, all three of which he practices with joyous abandon. In his 16th year, Pi sets sail with his family and some of their menagerie to start a new life in Canada. Halfway to Midway Island, the ship sinks into the Pacific, leaving Pi stranded on a life raft with a hyena, an orangutan, an injured zebra and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. After the beast dispatches the others, Pi is left to survive for 227 days with his large feline companion on the 26-foot-long raft, using all his knowledge, wits and faith to keep himself alive. The scenes flow together effortlessly, and the sharp observations of the young narrator keep the tale brisk and engaging. Martel's potentially unbelievable plot line soon demolishes the reader's defenses, cleverly set up by events of young Pi's life that almost naturally lead to his biggest ordeal. This richly patterned work, Martel's second novel, won Canada's 2001 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. In it, Martel displays the clever voice and tremendous storytelling skills of an emerging master.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A life unlike any other Nov. 4 2002
Yann Martel's novel takes us from a small community in India to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where a boy and a tiger share a lifeboat and develop, if not a friendship, a unique understanding of one another. The novel begins slowly and I wasn't sure if I was going to like it, but I also couldn't put it down, especially once on the high seas. Like any seafaring tale, it may be "tall" in parts, and you can, if you wish, choose to believe an alternate story provided for you near the end, but I prefer the taller of the two tales, and was bleary-eyed but well rewarded for reading it in one long sitting.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful piece of literature! Dec 5 2002
This is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read. It begins with a section that builds up the main character flawlessly. Then it shifts to wonderfully written story of survival, exploring almost every angle of human nature in the face of adversity. It delves into relationships in the most interesting of ways, and makes one think twice about their own. The third and final section of the book brings a bit of a twist in the plot; it left me enjoying the book in it's entirity even more. It is one of those feel good books, which I could not put down.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing and symbolic - I loved this book May 30 2002
By Booknut
I read between 50 and 80 books a year and it is the rare novel that does not disappoint me on some level. This book never let me down, I was never bored and I never felt the author cheated or left loose ends. The language was simple and lyrical but full of symbolism and symmetry. I loved the main character's honesty and optimism and his simple will to survive. Above all I loved the choice of an alternate ending, neither story is a perfect fit leaving the reader the choice to make up their own mind. I laughed, I cried and I'm recommending it to everyone I know.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb adventure; A survivor-guide's companion! Nov. 15 2002
For many immigrants who arrived in Canada, a new life of economic prosperity seems to be the beacon that attracted them. However, for some smaller number of immigrants, like myself, arriving here felt like a happy chapter of a life mostly blanketed with sorrow, loneliness and utter helplessness. I had never read a book that related so well with my past. As you read it, you will be taken on an incredible adventure that out does many if not all "castaway" movies and stories you may have seen or read. We may have read about survivors floating on a lifeboat after loosing their entire family to a ship accident and encountering all kinds of terrible things and places, some funny some deadly. Here, it is not these that matter. What matters in Mr. Martel's “Life of Pi” is how can we all discover, like Martel’s young hero Piscene Molitor Patel (Pi) does, that deep in each of us there really is God, Allah, Yahweh, Love, Hope, Christianity, Islam, Szerelem (Hungarian), Sevgi ve Umut (Turkish), Amal (Arabic), Arzu (Farsi), or whatever else your label may be, its a Good Thing. As I started the book, excitement of a beautiful spring rain bathed my senses, as I turned to the last page, I wept tears of joy. I will read this book again. I recommend that you do too. You will be surprised how much goodness you have inside. Take this book with you on your next voyage (beyond your supermarket, city, town, country), it will not only keep you company like Richard Parker does Pi, but it well help you go on living even if life seems to have handed out it last thread of hope.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not so magic realism Oct. 25 2003
By Aurelio
In the book jacket one of the reviewers compares this book to the works of Magic Realism. I myself find that comparison erroneous and offensive.
The book is charming and well written, but it is a lot more "A Beautiful Mind" than any magic realism. That the character does not have a solid ground on truth is already exhibited by the premise that one may combine all three major religions, please God equally as it were. That would only be possible by disassociating himself from the true demands of any faith, by separating the Christian in oneself from the hindu, etc. How schizophrenic is that?
Then there is the matter of how the rest of the story goes. Yes, perhaps a necessary way in which the character manages to cope with a horrible reality... none of the faiths seem to work, because none of them is truly accepted ... thus, something else needs to be invented, this communion with the animals.
A story that makes you believe in God? Hardly, perhaps a new-age type of deity that pleases neither God nor man.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great story telling of an unbelievable story May 11 2011
By Melissa
A 16 year-old Indian boy, Pi Patel, is travelling to Canada with his family and the majority of his father's zoo animals when their cargo ship sinks. The only human survivor, Pi must survive the high seas while stuck in a life boat with a zebra, hyena, orangutan, and Bengal tiger. This was a very original story, absurd and really stretching the boundaries of my imagination, but the writing made me a believer. I found Pi's voice to be engaging ' at times, a little over-descriptive, especially about the gruesome details of killing animals and fish, but still very endearing.

I really liked the ending of the book, particularly the last few chapters; it made me critically analyze the entire novel and see all the events from a new perspective. This is one of those books that, after you have read the last page, require time to digest before moving on to another book. I almost liked the book more after I had finished it than I did while I was reading it. Overall, recommended.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I love Pi!
Had seen the movie,then read and loved the book. The movie did a remarkable job of creating the story. Could not put the book down!
Published 28 days ago by Shopaholic
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
quite boring, no better than the movie
Published 1 month ago by Lyne Song
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read. Ends abruptly.
The premise of the book drew me to read it. I liked the understated humour. It was definitely too long and drawn out though... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Curious George
4.0 out of 5 stars great story
This was a story of God and creatures for whose brilliance I was completely unprepared. Bravo, it is a masterpiece of fiction!
Published 2 months ago by Chris
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't get the one I wanted
Ordered this anniversary edition but ended up with the original. Other than that disappointment, it arrived fast and in perfect condition.
Published 4 months ago by JL Magnusson
5.0 out of 5 stars An adept story-teller
To successfully write a novel like Life of Pi requires a skilful author capable of revealing the fantastic in a credible, engaging manner. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Lorina Stephens
3.0 out of 5 stars Item shipped was not item ordered
My rating is based on the experience of receiving this item, not on the item itself. I loved the book, but was disappointed that the edition I received was not the same one that I... Read more
Published 6 months ago by ladygoodgreen
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this
It was such an entertaining story. I kept reading pieces aloud to my kids so much that my daughter purchased the print edition (she prefers print to her kindle) and read it too.
Published 9 months ago by Lynda Gernon
2.0 out of 5 stars Classic Read
I read Life of Pi by Yann Martel just because the movie was coming out. I had also heard that is was an incredible read and wanted to see what all of the buzz was about. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Sam Couture Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than the film
Better than the film. Read it before you see it. Very good life lesson. Must read once in a life.
Published 9 months ago by Francis
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