I knew Life of Pi had won the 2002 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. And I knew it was one of the recommended books on Oprah’s website. I even knew that President Obama had personally written a letter to Yann Martel. He liked the book that much. But I still didn’t expect very much when I began reading the book for myself. Maybe it’s because the book starts out slow. It didn’t pull me in like I had been expecting it to. In fact the first part was positively arid. Nevertheless I trudged on only to find myself hooked by the time I reached the 9th page.
The story is about a South Indian boy, Pi Patel, whose family owns a zoo in Pondicherry, India, not long after India got it’s independence in 1947. During a steadily increasing time of financial and political instability, the family decides to emigrate to Canada. The Tsimtsum, the ship they’re on, sinks and Pi finds himself its lone human survivor, the other survivors being a Zebra, a Hyena, an Orang-utan, and a Bengal Tiger. Thus begins Pi’s amazing story of survival through the Pacific on a lifeboat with four other mammals.
One interesting fact is that the Botanical Garden where the zoo was supposed to have been and the tiny train that is in the Garden, are still there. It’s very obvious that this book was the product of an intelligent mind and a lot of hard work. All the characters have been carefully thought out and are highly believable. At times, while reading, I found myself wondering if it might be a true story.
A lot of this story was troubling, scary, and some parts simply made me squeamish. But there were an equal number of places that made me think that perhaps being stranded on the Pacific wouldn’t be so bad after all. Imagine being able to observe ocean life at its best and most natural. Imagine lazily drifting, passing little islands, watching Dorados chase Flying Fish, and sometimes when you look out of your boat below you even see a busy city complete with all the hustle and bustle. But then again, alone in a lifeboat, stranded on the Pacific with a Bengal tiger for company??
I finally understand why this book won all that acclaim and fame. It truly is a thought provoking, illuminating story of how hope and determination can clear a person’s mind, and strengthen it enough to equip a person to survive even the worst and unexpected situations. Personally, I didn’t agree with some of the theology put forward in this book. But there are many to whom this book may reach out spiritually. I also realize that the author probably intended for the story to start out slow and ordinary like.
If you aren’t looking for a heavy read but would like a rich and meaningful story, this book is perfect.
Doubt is useful for a while…But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation. —Life of Pi