Friday, February 13, 2009

Life of Pi

I must be almost the last person in North America to read Yann Martel's unforgettable tale, "Life of Pi." Consider that there are now over 1900 reviews of the book on Amazon despite the fact that only a tiny percentage of a book's readers will ever take the time to do that, or that 16,095 members of Library Thing own it, making "Life of Pi" the 21st most popular book there. Well, I can finally tell everyone that it was worth the wait.

Yann Martel has written an inspiring story about the defining event in one man's life, an event that 16-year-old Pi Patel miraculously survives when so many others around him do not, something that shapes the rest of his life. It does not hurt, of course, that the story involves a shipwreck, a 450-pound Bengal tiger, one small lifeboat drifting the vast Pacific Ocean, cannibalism, and a mysterious island in the middle of nowhere.

Until his mid-teens, Pi Patel is raised in remote Pondicherry, India, where he and his brother are lucky enough to live on the grounds of the zoo managed by his father. Pi's father, though, becomes disillusioned with the Indian government of the mid-seventies and decides to move the family to Canada. The Patel family leaves India on the same freighter carrying a large number of zoo animals destined for new homes of their own in North American zoos. Plans for man and animal alike, however, change one day just before dawn when Pi realizes that the ship is rapidly sinking.

Suddenly the ship is gone and Pi finds himself sharing a 26-foot lifeboat with a severely injured zebra, a female orangutan elder, a manic hyena and, most importantly, a tiger so large that he alone fills half the boat's limited space. Animals do what animals do, especially when faced with starvation, and only Pi and the tiger he calls Richard Parker are still around when the boat reaches land 227 days later.

Yann Martel mixes realism and magic to just the right degree, allowing his readers to suspend their disbelief to the degree that everything that happens seems possible - and then he throws readers the kind of curve ball that will leave them standing at the plate with bats on shoulders, an alternate version of his entire story. Each reader will have to choose for himself the version he believes to have happened, a choice that will tell much about the reader himself. I cannot imagine a more perfect choice for book club discussion than "Life of Pi."

If you are one of the few yet to read "Life of Pi," you have quite an experience ahead of you.

18 comments:

  1. You know, I just couldn't finish that book. I'll keep trying though - sometimes I have to be in the right frame of mind to read a particular book!

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  2. And I thought I was the last person to read that book... I avoided it because it seemed like everybody was talking about it. Then I stumbled across it while trying to find something at my college library to help me de-stress after finals. I enjoyed the ride, and then the ending swooped in, hit me, and stayed with me a while.

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  3. I, too, am still to read this one, and I will definately keep it in mind more now. Thanks for the review.

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  4. I'm pleased to hear that Pi did not disappoint. I remember that the back cover of the edition I first read (I've read it three or four times by now.) said that this book will make you believe in God. It did make me think about it for a while.

    Ultimately, I agree with Pi; when faced with two plausible endings you cannot prove, why not choose the better story.

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  5. I still haven't read this either. I was skeptical about it as magical realism isn't really my cup of tea. I enjoy Martel's What is Stephen Harper reading? site so much though, I may have to change that soon.

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  6. I'm actually going to be the last one to read it, I guess. It's in the back of my mind, but there are so many books ahead of it on the list.

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  7. I haven't read this one yet but I'm looking forward to it. Your review just reminded me that I need to pick it up. Thanks :)

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  8. I enjoyed Life Of Pi immensely and I never would have picked it up without my book club.

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  9. I know what you mean, Size 12...I've come back to more than one abandoned book and enjoyed it. You just never know when the time might be right.

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  10. The funny thing for me, Library Girl, is that despite all the talk about "Life of Pi," I missed out on the alternate ending thing until I got to that part of the book. It surprised me and really made me think. In fact, it made everything come together for me, a perfect ending, IMO.

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  11. Better late than never, Leah...hope you enjoy it when you do pick it up.

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  12. C.B., I have to admit that the part about "believing in God" baffled me for a while. I'm kinda glad that I read this one after all the hype was over because it allowed me to forget most everything I'd heard about the plot, etc.

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  13. Sarah, the overt magic is pretty minimal. In fact, most of it is in one section of the book...unless the behavior of some of the animals strikes you that way.

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  14. No doubt, John...definitely one that will be read by future generations.

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  15. Sherry, do keep it on the list. I think you'll be happy, one day in the future, that you did.

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  16. Let me know what you think, Samantha...especially if you end up hating it. :-)

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  17. Carrie, I can imagine those book club discussions - lots of room for differing opinions on the "true" ending to be had, for sure.

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