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Life of Pi Hardcover – June 4, 2002
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Yann Martel's imaginative and unforgettable Life of Pi is a magical reading experience, an endless blue expanse of storytelling about adventure, survival, and ultimately, faith. The precocious son of a zookeeper, 16-year-old Pi Patel is raised in Pondicherry, India, where he tries on various faiths for size, attracting "religions the way a dog attracts fleas." Planning a move to Canada, his father packs up the family and their menagerie and they hitch a ride on an enormous freighter. After a harrowing shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker ("His head was the size and color of the lifebuoy, with teeth"). It sounds like a colorful setup, but these wild beasts don't burst into song as if co-starring in an anthropomorphized Disney feature. After much gore and infighting, Pi and Richard Parker remain the boat's sole passengers, drifting for 227 days through shark-infested waters while fighting hunger, the elements, and an overactive imagination. In rich, hallucinatory passages, Pi recounts the harrowing journey as the days blur together, elegantly cataloging the endless passage of time and his struggles to survive: "It is pointless to say that this or that night was the worst of my life. I have so many bad nights to choose from that I've made none the champion."
An award winner in Canada, Life of Pi, Yann Martel's second novel, should prove to be a breakout book in the U.S. At one point in his journey, Pi recounts, "My greatest wish--other than salvation--was to have a book. A long book with a never-ending story. One that I could read again and again, with new eyes and fresh understanding each time." It's safe to say that the fabulous, fablelike Life of Pi is such a book. --Brad Thomas Parsons
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.
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The story was compelling and oddly believable and fanciful at the same time. If you can get through the beginning, the story will reward you.
Scott C. Thompson.
The writing is amusing where it needs to be and serious where it counts most. A reader could experience what it would be like to have to survive at sea with little in the way of food, clothing and shelter, but also gets to experience what it is like to be curious, since the beginning of the story shows us Pi's life before he becomes stranded. Pi experiences the melting pot of his home country and curiously explores several religions before his adventures even begin and readers get to experience that in a sometimes humorous, but always open-minded way.
I had this book for a long time before it became popular and only read it right now because the movie had come out and I decided since I couldn't get to the theater, I'd do the better thing and pick up the book. I wasn't disappointed in the slightest. Who needs moving pictures when you can see it all so clearly in your own mind?
The book is not just about religion, of course. It is a story of growing up, learning how the world works, and finding that razor's edge balance so rare in our lives, but abundant in Pi's. He uses the family zoo, and the interactions with animals, including the tiger he is stuck on a rowboat with, as metaphors for understanding humanity. There is a wild, almost Rabalasian humor that runs throughout the story, just underneath the surface. One has to "read between the lines" to see this, but it is there, and it is one of the things which makes the book so memorable. Along with strong story lines, it presents a marvelous and true-to-life view of modern urban India, which is often missing in Western minds.
Perhaps one of the reasons I enjoyed the book so much is that I spent several years in India in my early post-college years, and visited all the places on my own that Pi mentions in the book. He describes Pondicherry and many other Tamil and Southern India sites and attitudes, including eating habits (with fingers rather than utensils), and how these become ingrained until one visits a different culture and finds they are mocked by that other culture.
A beautiful book, that will remain in my top ten, alongside Plato and "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," and only slightly under "Hobbit," and "Lord of the Rings."
a perfect conundrum (sorry, I don't review books, but you might find the review of the faithful film interesting).
Film director Ang Lee's
adaptation of Yann Martel's
extraordinary novel is,
challenging, but delivers the
ride of a lifetime.
For those who've read the novel, which presents the reader with two versions of the main narrative, they may be well prepared to encounter the same ambiguity in Lee's faithful film, Life of Pi.
Some will express frustration at this open-ended conclusion. However, the element of choice is integral to the source material, being, substantively, about truth and faith which, it is contended, are both essentially elusive and, ultimately, subjective.
Martel and Lee are on well-trodden ground. Following, for example, Kurosawa's landmark film, Rashomon (1950), which explored a woman's rape/murder from the viewpoint of four different witnesses who failed to establish a consensus, it has been fine for a film to ask questions of an audience, rather than to provide answers.
Most people will be aware that the protagonist's name is the symbol for an unresolvable mathematical conundrum, making it an entirely apt appellation. So, with the only major difference to the book, being the inclusion of an author, to whom the story may be related, we can now turn our attention to this extraordinary tale of survival.
After closing their zoo in India, the Patel family, accompanied by many of the animals, embark on a ship bound for Canada. One night, in rough weather, the ship sinks and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat, the sole human survivor along with a few of the animals, the main one being a Bengal tiger, humorously named Richard Parker.
The tale of Pi's battle against the elements, adrift for over two hundred days, is one of ingenuity, deprivation and virtual starvation. However, above all, it centres on the extraordinary relationship which develops between Richard Parker who struggles for supremacy, and Pi who simply struggles to stay alive. Eschewing several opportunities of ridding himself of his lethal companion, Pi insists on keeping the tiger aboard, a product of his own deep humanitarian and religious beliefs. So develops an almost unbelievable symbiosis which goes far beyond the earthly, delving into philosophical and spiritual areas which question the essence of Humanity itself.
What Lee achieves, in having the human and animal protagonists at `close quarters' is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Not for a moment is there any doubt that Pi and the deadly Bengal tiger are together in the lifeboat.
In Hugo, Scorsese achieved a level of skill in the use of the 3D format, previously unseen. Nowadays, it is almost de rigueur, that a prospective blockbuster be made in this format. Many such films, though, simply use 3D as a `shock tactic' which embroiders some cheap thrills into the action sequences. Life of Pi takes this technology to a new level. In fact, so intrinsic to the narrative force is this `extra dimension' that it would seem pointless to see it in a 2D format.
For the first time, I watched a film which seemed to occupy the entire space from my eyes to the screen. Schools of fish swim before me, the night stars stretched to infinity and, when Pi's tiny refuge is struck with a tidal wave of flying fish, it is hard not to duck for cover or not to feel the sting of their impact. In the storm scenes, the sea, in all its savagery, has never looked so terrifying.
Lee has brought a degree of understanding and skill to the 3D format that will serve as the benchmark for years to come.
Above all, the main star of Life of Pi (and chief beneficiary of the marvels of 3D) is the natural world. There are sights, so wondrous, so ravishing, that your emotions will endure an exhausting workout. In fact, some scenes are not just achingly beautiful - they will, more than likely, be impossible to erase.
As far as human stars are concerned, Suraj Sharma, as Pi, is a revelation. It is almost unfathomable that this young actor, who has never been in front of the camera before, whose face often occupies half the screen, could display all the fear, hope, desperation and love that he does. The scene where both he and Richard Parker are nearing death is heartbreaking.
Life of Pi is an outstanding achievement. The visuals will hit you between the eyes but it is the deeper resonances, the meditation on Humanity's place in the Cosmos, which will probably stay with you forever.