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Life of Pi Paperback – Black & White, May 1, 2003
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From The New Yorker
An impassioned defense of zoos, a death-defying trans-Pacific sea adventure à la "Kon-Tiki," and a hilarious shaggy-dog story starring a four-hundred-and-fifty-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker: this audacious novel manages to be all of these as it tells the improbable survivor's tale of Pi Patel, a young Indian fellow named for a swimming pool (his full first name is Piscine) who endures seven months in a lifeboat with only a hungry, outsized feline for company. This breezily aphoristic, unapologetically twee saga of man and cat is a convincing hands-on, how-to guide for dealing with what Pi calls, with typically understated brio, "major lifeboat pests."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
"Life of Pi could renew your faith in the ability of novelists to invest even the most outrageous scenario with plausible life."— The New York Times Book Review
"A story to make you believe in the soul-sustaining power of fiction."— Los Angeles Times Book Review
"A gripping adventure story . . . Laced with wit, spiced with terror, it's a book by an extraordinary talent."— St. Paul Pioneer-Press
"A terrific book . . . Fresh, original, smart, devious, and crammed with absorbing lore."— Margaret Atwood
"An impassioned defense of zoos, a death-defying trans-Pacific sea adventure a la Kon-Tiki, and a hilarious shaggy-dog story . . . : This audacious novel manages to be all of these." — The New Yorker
"Readers familiar with Margaret Atwood, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje and Carol Shields should learn to make room on the map of contemporary Canadian fiction for the formidable Yann Martel." — Chicago Tribune
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It's that sense of surprise that kept me reading, dragging me through the story as if I were tied to a truck rolling through a busy street. I couldn't put the book down. I was pulled through it by my curiosity. Read it then come back and write about it.
A boy and a tiger on a boat. It sounds like it belongs under the magical realism section, with Salman Rushdie. But its not. The story is told by a narrator acquainted with the mathematics of animal-human interaction. But to confine this story to one within the limits of zoology would be ludicrous. Pi is a student of religion and animals. Religion perhaps is something that differentiates humans from animals and that question of what makes us humans unique is a recurring theme in the story. For Pi, the love of God is mankind's unique and greatest joy. It's not a God that belongs to a people or a culture, but a universal God, the Creator of a world that Pi loves. "A God", as Pi says in a memorable line, "whose presence is reward enough".
If love of God is unique to human beings, then so is intelligence. And it is intelligence that Pi uses to survive the long journey, on a small boat, with a tiger. With constant awareness of the tiger's state of mind, and the resources available to him, Pi does survive, and this seemingly miraculous survival is what makes up the bulk of this story's 100 chapters.
Pi survives to tell the tale. Had the story finished with his final adventure, another battle against the inevitable hunger and danger of his travel companion we would have a story both miraculous and amazingly - acceptable.
But the story continues. After his rescue Pi is interviewed and after great stress gives a second description of his survival. This description is gruesome, horrific, and since it differs to the story we have just finished reading, raises very challenging questions.
Firstly and most importantly, which version is the true one? Could such a horrific and gruesome story have been made up?
But on the other hand, can we really consider dismissing the original story as a mere metaphor for the second "true" story? What of the spectacular details? And what of those parts in the first story which don't seem to map to the second version so easily?
Is the first story just a metaphor? If it is, then this is ultimately a book about the human need for myth as a means for living with impossible truths.
If it is not, and the first story is the true one, then this second story is just a bone thrown to a dog, a "rational" version of events thrown to a "rational" interviewer, a fool for whom "reason is gold".
Which is the true answer? Do we accept the first or the second version?
Ultimately, Yann Martel asks us to choose: Is it a believable fantasy, or is it a necessary metaphor?
How we choose is maybe related in no small measure by our own relationship with reason and rationality. Do we rely on them entirely for our survival, or might we allow for something else, some unfathomable good "beyond the realm of thought and language"?
Now, for my own version of Life of P.I. (Pine Island, that is). This won't mean much to you if you haven't read the original Life of Pi:
I find myself living on an island in SW Florida. I am trying to survive it until I find another place to land. Living here is hard because it's a place where people fish, or drink alcohol, or both. That's pretty much IT. The activities are not mutually exclusive, and both activities can begin at daybreak. I neither fish, nor drink, so I have to find other activities to keep me busy. Having found much beauty and solace in the great outdoors in the past, I've tried hiking through P.I.'s overgrown woodlands. I've tried kayaking the many waterways on and around the island. I've greased up my green thumb, and tried planting a garden, a rewarding pursuit in my past, living in other places. Here? All of those things are horribly disappointing! The air is thick with biting insects, some of whom could kill you if you're allergic or there's a mosquito-borne virus in the area. Fire ants crawl up your legs and deliver a fiercely painful bite--not one, but hundreds, all together now "let's really hurt this person." The bites fester and swell with pus and angry redness; infection often follows. There are poisonous brown recluse spiders who hide in your kayak and garden, lurking there to bite and possibly kill you, too. Never mind the snakes! Snakes lurking in the woods, in the water, in your garden. Rattlers, cottonmouths, coral snakes. You can never be too careful! Behemoth alligators swim whereever it's wet....beware! Did I mention the heat? It's relentless...burning, smothering, wet, nasty and oppressive. You can never escape it, night or day. The sky seems to be bearing down on you. And forget hurricane season! It's so nerve-racking and dangerous. Best to stay indoors and hope the air conditioner never stops working in home or car. This place is hell on earth!
or, if you'd prefer I can tell you the story of P.I. without all the animals, at least not the nasty ones:
Have I told you about my home, P.I. (Pine Island)? What a glorious place! The island folk are laid-back and friendly--they'll invite you out to fish on their boat or buy you a beer at the local saloon the first time they meet you. I was here during Hurricane Charley which was unpleasant and nerve-racking, but afterwards the people on this island pulled together and helped each other put our lives back together, like nothing I've ever seen. "Love thy Neighbor" truly practiced here...The island is luxuriant and forested--the predominant colors here are blue (the water and the sky) and green (the color of the woods that keep this island different from other barrier islands.) Oh, and I shouldn't forget the multicolored flowers, dragonflies and butterflies that flourish here in island gardens, along the roadsides, and in the woods. Large pink birds and brilliant white ones can be seen flying across clear blue skies or brilliant sunsets over the gulf. The warmth here embraces like a light blanket even when people in the north are shivering under real ones. At night the air is filled with the sound of bald eagles calling to their mates, and the delicious aroma of night blooming jasmine. There's so much to do! Fishing, hiking, kayaking, birding, gardening, trying to spot native wildlife, socializing with the locals. This place is heaven on earth!
Which version is true? I wrote them both, and on different days have believed both versions. Just like The Life of PI.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
From the title, I expected more than just the aftermath of the shipwreck.Read more
The interaction between Pi and Richard Parker (the Bengal tiger) fascinated me the...Read more