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Life of Pi [Paperback]

Yann Martel
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (249 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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Product Description

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
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A life unlike any other Nov. 4 2002
Format:Paperback
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful piece of literature! Dec 5 2002
Format:Paperback
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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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing and symbolic - I loved this book May 30 2002
By Booknut
Format:Hardcover
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bugga-boo Oct. 23 2004
Format:Hardcover
I'm not sure what I liked more, the book or the negative reviews. Having spent the last 5 years of my life in undergrad philosophy, Life of Pi didn't offer any new philosophical insights. For those who grasped the point made in the end, it's a rather old argument, but presented in a very colourful story that at first I wasn't able to get into, but then became quite enthralled with.I can't help but wonder if the people who didn't "get it" were distracted when reading. I notice a number of reviews saying the beginning has nothing to do with the middle or end. Not to be vague and blunt, but the beginning is the beginning that leads to the middle and the end. In order to find the significance in the story, simply pay attention to who and what Pi is during his time in India. His devotion to religion and family, the influences of his two friends Kumar and what each represents and the small bits of information into the character of animals and humans.Did the book make me believe in God? Well, no, that would be sort of silly. As someone very non-religious I doubt any book could do that. But I understood its message clearly enough and I even agree with the principle. Especially as its presented in this work, its very moving, something I'm not apt to say often.For the life of me I can't figure the reviews from people who say it has no ending, I'm not sure what more they hoped for, what the thought lacking. I read the ending no less than 6 hours ago, it was clear to me and very appropriate as well. Again, I suspect perhaps some readers were just too distracted or were reading in such a way as to focus only on the hapter at hand without appreciating the whole story as it had been built to that point.In any event, I'd certainly recommend the book. Read more ›
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best I've read in a while May 19 2002
Format:Hardcover
"Life of Pi" is a lovely, intelligent and unique novel - one of the best I've read in a while.
Though I found Pi's views on the lives of zoo animals a bit off (in fact they made me not WANT to like the book!), he is an incredibly endearing, smart character whom I could not help respecting and rooting for. He is a teenage boy - a practicing Christian, Muslim AND Hindu (all at the same time - much to the consternation of his family and various religious mentors)who escapes a sinking ship in a lifeboat shared by an orangutan, a hyena and a tiger.
Pi and the tiger survive for 227 amazing days in the lifeboat (during which they make an amazing 'botanical' discovery worthy of Star-Trek in its Mr. Spock days) before landing on the coast of Mexico. There Pi provides the authorities two different explanations for his amazing survival.
It's up to you to decide which one is true...
Really worth reading, "Life of Pi" stands out brightly amongst the novels I've read in the past few years, and I'll be recommending it for years to come.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than just a fairy tale Jan. 1 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
My son loves this book simply as a fairy tale. But, for us adults, if we look between the lines, there is alot more depth than a charming story. And alot of it is spiritual in nature. My favorite spiritual book that I would recommend is, I Talked To God And He Wants To Talk To You. It is the best book ever and I would be remiss if I didn't mention it here. Yet, The Life of Pi rates right up there with my favorite spiritual inspiration.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Riveting Read Feb. 27 2003
Format:Paperback
I felt this novel started out a bit light-hearted, an easy read that holds your attention right from the beginning. It is humor-filled, informative and gives very definitive opinions without feeling preachy. This is a well-spun yarn that keeps you thinking that maybe there is some factual basis for this fictional story. The tone changes quite a bit during the shipwreck scene with very graphic descriptions that make an already active imagination go into overdrive. It may not be a good idea to read that part of the book just before sleeping. By the end of the novel, I just thought, "Wow." There's no other way to describe it. It's a very riveting novel that reels you in from the get-go and it's almost impossible to put down until you're finished. I really enjoyed it. If you're looking for something to divert your mind from the mundane concerns of life, this is the book to pick up.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Book was as described and in the good condition it was described as being in.
Published 5 days ago by Mel
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very good
Published 1 month ago by Jacinthe Theoret
4.0 out of 5 stars So Glad I read it!
My mother-in-law gave me this book for Christmas a while back and it sat on my shelf for the longest time. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Cindy Beverly
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Not something I'd read again.
Published 2 months ago by vern shook
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 3 months ago by Shopaholic
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
quite boring, no better than the movie
Published 3 months 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 4 months 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 5 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 7 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 8 months ago by Lorina Stephens
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