Review: Life of Pi

I remember being a college student (which I suppose wasn’t that long ago) and being told to buy books over $100 or more which I would then sell back for a fraction of what I paid, if they bought it back at all. I am sure many people can relate. Since I was an accounting major, they weren’t worth keeping either because policies and standards changed every year. One year, they refused to buy back a brand new book that had just been released prior to the semester I used it for. Why? Well, the teacher decided to go with a new book… one he had written himself. I tried to come up with new uses for the over-sized paperweights that still remain on my shelves. Here are some ideas I came up with:

  • A replacement for warm milk or sleeping pills
  • A weapon in case of an intruder
  • Weights to build muscle in case of aforementioned intruder
  • Chew toys for the dogs

Sadly, none of these ideas have panned out, and my dogs only chew the books I like to read. When I eventually made the choice to switch my studies to English Literature, they told me to buy NOVELS! It was an amazing shift that I wish I had made earlier, but I suppose there is no looking back. Unfortunately, like many college students, especially those who work full-time while attending classes, I slacked off on my reading duties. So many of the unread books on my shelves come from some of my old classes. My most recent excursion is one of these, Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

Here is a short synopsis for those who are unfamiliar with the novel. Piscine Molitor Patel, better known as Pi, is a young Indian boy and the son of a zookeeper. Pi is a smart and curious boy, taking an active role with the animals and delving into religion. He practices his native Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. At age sixteen, Pi, his parents, brother, and most of the animals are relocating to Canada via a Japanese cargo ship. Sadly, the ship sinks, but Pi manages to stay aboard a lifeboat. Unfortunately, his fellow survivors are an injured zebra, a hyena, an orangutang, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Under the circumstances, it doesn’t take long for all to die but Pi and the tiger. Pi has to use all his knowledge, will, resources, and insight to tame Richard Parker and survive the ordeal.

I had begun this book many times before, but I think what prevented me from ever even hitting the halfway point was the first part, called Toronto and Pondicherry. It is about the boy before the incident, his experiences growing up in India being the son of a zookeeper. It is also a lot about him discovering religion. It just seemed a little slow moving. I often read before bed, and I would find myself starting to nod off if I read for too long. It was interesting, don’t get me wrong, but not very exciting.

It wasn’t that religion was such a large part of the first section, it was that he was explaining about the fundamentals and basics of religion. It felt almost like a lesson. The same went for the zookeeping. However, I vowed that with this project, I would finish every book on my shelf, so I forced myself through it. In the process, I found a quote that I really adore. Pi is talking about his favorite teacher at school, who he finds out is an atheist. He says:

I felt a kinship with him. It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them — and then they leap.

I’ll admit, I am no longer a religious person, not for any particular reason other than I just don’t think about it. I used to go to Catholic grade school, but now I feel like I just have no opinion about the matter. I call myself an apatheist, apathetic to the whole idea. But I believe in letting people believe what they want, or not believe at all. We all do what we can to get through the day, some people just do it differently than others.

Once I got through the first part, things picked up… his boat sank, and it was the story of his survival and attachment to Richard Parker. We know from the beginning that Pi survives. He is being interviewed by a journalist about his experience. We find out that he survived 227 days on the water. The novel is mostly about how his days on the ship were and how he survived (food, water, etc). The element of the tiger is there, but not as much as the rest. It is clear that he wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for Richard Parker, he even says so himself. Clearly, the tiger helped save him from the other animals, but also helped to relinquish the boredom of being lost at sea, adrift alone for almost a year. Fear played a role in his interactions with the tiger, but also the need for companionship.

The final part is about his arrival on land and an interview with the Japanese company who owned the cargo ship. He tells them another version of the story, since they don’t appear to like the one he has been telling this whole time. I found it interesting, because it is almost hard to believe which story is the true one. I will not tell you about the alternate story, but it is a very sad one. In fact, the whole story is really sad, but I found myself not thinking about it much. Odd, right?

The novel is told in such a way that it feels almost empowering. The classic story of survival, with a twist. It is definitely a recipe for success: one strong willed boy, terrible loss, dire circumstances, hope through religion, and one Bengal tiger. I am glad that I trudged through the first few pages, because it is a worthy read.

I have been trying to come up with a clever way to rank the novels I read, but apparently, I am not that witty. For now, I have decided to stick with the tried and true number system, 1 through 10, 10 being the best possible score. I figure it is easily identifiable.

I have decided to give this book a 6. The slow beginning really dragged it down for me. I also feel the re-reading factor is very low. However, I enjoyed the story and the character of Pi, although my love for animals made Richard Parker my favorite. This book is worth the read, and many may not find the beginning as hard to get through as I did. Maybe I like a book to jump right into things (which could be why I like the fantasy genre). My recommendation is to borrow it or rent it from the library if it doesn’t seem like your “type” of book, but definitely read it. This book is slowly becoming a new classic, and you’ll want to be in the know.

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