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Life of Pi – Book Review

I was alone and orphaned, in the middle of the Pacific, hanging on to an oar, an adult tiger in front of me, sharks beneath me, a storm raging about me. Had I considered my prospects in the light of reason, I surely would have given up and let go of the oar, hoping that I might drown before being eaten. But I don’t recall that I had a single thought during those first minutes of relative safety. I didn’t even notice daybreak. I held on to the oar, I just held on, God only knows why. -From Life of Pi, page 107-

Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winning novel Life of Pi is about a sixteen year old boy named Pi who sees no reason why he cannot be a Muslim, a Christian and a Hindu all at the same time…after all, the rhinos in his father’s zoo get along just fine with the goats, and all Pi wants to do is “love God.” When Pi’s family decides to move to Canada and boards a Japanese cargo ship along with their wild zoo animals in cages below deck, the story takes a sudden turn. Only days into the journey, the ship sinks leaving Pi the only survivor aboard a 26 foot life boat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a 3 year old male Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The story becomes one of survival for Pi as one by one the animals are killed off until only Richard Parker remains.

The Life of Pi is not really about a boy castaway and a tiger. Instead it is an exploration of faith and tolerance. Pi is literally set adrift with only himself and God to chart the waters of survival. Richard Parker is symbolic of all the challenges and fears we face in life – those we must overcome to not only survive, but to find meaning in our lives. Early in the novel Pi tells the reader:

My religious doings were reported to my parents in the hushed, urgent tones of treason revealed. As if this small-mindedness did God any good. To me, religion is about our dignity, not our depravity. -From Life of Pi, page 71-

And so when the worst happens and the depraved, instinctive actions of the animals horrifies us, we are reminded that Pi will find dignity anyway. And so he does – through the practised religious rituals which he adapts to his circumstances, Pi recognizes: Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love – but sometimes it was so hard to love. (page 208)

Life of Pi leaves us with a twist – a question really of what actually happened. What is the truth of Pi’s adventure? What do we want? A story which makes us think, or one filled with only dry facts?

I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.” -From Life of Pi, page 302-

So how did I like Life of Pi? It was a unique book and one which took me almost 100 pages to really sink into and begin to appreciate. This is not a light read – it is a novel filled with deep thoughts and hard questions. I can’t say I enjoyed it – although I did respect the writing and felt it was one of those novels which should be read and digested, and then read again.

Recommended for those readers who like a thought-provoking book.

23 Comments

  1. June 24, 2008    

    This is a fair review, Wendy! Good for you! =)

  2. June 24, 2008    

    I loved this book! Like you, though, it took me close to 80 pages to get engrossed. The ending was a bit annoying, but overall, I really liked it a lot. I need to see if I can dig up my review. It’s been several years…

  3. June 24, 2008    

    Good review. I’ve got this on my Classics Challenge to read. I’ve heard both good and not so good reviews on it. I do like thought provoking books but I worry that it takes so long to get into it. Well, I’ll likely give it a go anyway.

  4. June 24, 2008    

    Jill: Thanks 🙂

    Les: I’d love to read your review, Les…

    Darlene: Thanks – I’ll be interested to see what you think. This one gets mixed reviews it seems.

  5. June 24, 2008    

    I liked it, but the ending kinda bugged me. I couldn’t decide which version I believed!

  6. June 24, 2008    

    Wendy, I don’t really have a long, detailed review since it was just something I jotted down in my reading journal, but here goes:

    Rating: A (9/10 Terrific! Couldn’t put it down)

    How to begin to even describe this book?? It’s a story about a young boy (16-years-old) from India who is moving to Canada with his parents and brother. He winds up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, alone in a lifeboat — well, not really alone — there’s a Bengal tiger aboard with him. They are lost at sea for over 200 days. Martel is an excellent storyteller. I enjoyed the survival aspects of the tale, as well as the preliminary buildup while Pi is still living in India with his family (particularly the descriptions of how he discovers religion). Martel sprinkles humor throughout the story, in addition to some beautiful passages. I grew to care about Pi and his companion and found their tale (no pun intended!) very satisfying. Will be recommending this to anyone who’ll listen. This is one to own!!

  7. June 24, 2008    

    When I read your review, I remembered that I really loved Life of Pi while I read it. I thought it was an amazing book. But I also realized that it is a book that didn’t stick with me. I never find myself thinking about it, much as I loved it at the time. On the other hand, there are plenty of books that didn’t pack the same wallop, but I dwell on them for years after — for example, Last Orders by Graham Swift (1996 winner) or The Old Devils by Kinglsley Amis (1986 winner).

    (By the way — I read your review on The Complete Booker, where I left the same comment.)

  8. June 25, 2008    

    Jeanne: I know what you mean about the ending…It surprised me, an unusual twist that left me wondering.

    Les: thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one. I agree that Martel is a great story teller…his introduction to the book actually really entertained me, and that often is not the case!

    Rose City Reader: Interesting as to the books that stick with you, isn’t it? I read Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle quite some time ago and now a book group is discussing it. I am amazed at the detail I remember from the book – and the impact it had when I read it.

  9. June 25, 2008    

    I just wanted to remind you that Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon is this Saturday. However, I know you’re also on alert when it comes to fires and evacuating…so this might not be good timing for you 🙂 I hope all is well and continues to be well.

  10. June 25, 2008    

    Thanks Becky – I haven’t forgotten…and hope to participate; although I have to admit I am feeling quite weary right now, so not sure I’ll make it the full 24 hours!

  11. June 26, 2008    

    I didn’t want to read this book, but it was my book club’s choice so of course I did. Actually, I listened to the audio version. I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed it! There are tidbits of info thrown in about the facts of life at a zoo, science/nature info about the ocean, and many more small things that I found fascinating.

    Here’s a link to my book club’s blog post about it in case you’re interested.

  12. June 26, 2008    

    I’ve been wanting to read this book for quite a while and after reading your review, I want to read it even more! Even tho you didn’t exactly enjoy reading it, you were able to remain objective and appreciate it none the less. Thanks!

  13. June 26, 2008    

    Heather: Thanks for that link – fascinating! I think this is a great book group read as it provokes good discussion. I have to admit that I think the timing of me reading this was probably off…we’ve been under stress with the fires up here and this was such a deep, thought-provoking read…I don’t think I could concentrate adequately to give it its due. I would consider re-reading it at some point.

    Lisa: Oh, you should definitely read it. It is a fascinating book…See my comments above as to why I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as other people have.

  14. June 28, 2008    

    I was a little disappointed in this book–but it is one that I would be willing to re-read again because you are right…there is so much to think about in this book! Thanks for your thoughts.

  15. June 30, 2008    

    Trish: I think this is a book that should be re-read. I feel like I probably missed some good stuff the first go around and will re-read it at some point.

  16. July 6, 2008    

    I loved this book the first time I read it, but I think I’d like to read it again now that I can focus on what each character symbolizes.

  17. July 6, 2008    

    Jennifer: I agree…this is a good one to re-read (and I almost never re-read books!).

  18. July 6, 2008    

    Like you, I couldn’t get into this book either right away and didn’t feel overwhelmed. However, I respected the writing too. It may be one to reread. Here is my review, to which I will add a link to your review at the bottom of the post here very shortly.

  19. July 7, 2008    

    Unfinished: Thanks for the link to your review (I popped over and left you a comment)…glad to know I wasn’t the only person that found this to be a difficult read.

  20. October 1, 2008    

    I guess I’m going to be the odd man out. I enjoyed reading this a great deal, had no trouble getting into it, and disagree with a large number of the great thoughts. ;o) And I rather liked the ending, myself.

    I read it well before the 1% challenge and never bothered to review it, but I found it a very entertaining read. The Golden Notebook – now THAT was dreary slogging.

  21. October 3, 2008    

    Janet: Thanks for stopping by! I know plenty of readers who adore this book. I stopped over and read your thoughts on The Golden Notebook – yikes! I have that monstrous book on my TBR pile…looks like it might stay there a bit longer *laughs*

  22. October 3, 2008    

    If you have trouble sleeping at night, The Golden Notebook could help… ;o)

  23. October 4, 2008    

    Janet: *laughing* thanks for the heads up!

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