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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review: 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel

Over the mid-year uni break, I started reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I'd seen the movie in cinemas with a friend, back in the summer, and I'd wanted to read the book ever since. I am still a firm believer that, at least in most cases, the book is better than the movie. Although Ang Lee did a marvelous job directing the motion picture and the visuals were truly spectacular, Yann Martel wrote this story with equal beauty, and without adding unnecessary Hollywood subplots.

Life of Pi follows the journey of a young Indian boy, Piscine Molitor Patel, known to all as Pi, as he searches for new ways to show his faith in God by practicing multiple religions, and as he maintains his faith through a terrifying, life-changing ordeal: the sinking of the cargo ship that was transporting his family from India to Canada, of which he is the sole survivor, stranded in the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat with a fully grown male Bengal tiger for 227 days.

When I started reading the book, I thought the beginning was slow and at some points a little boring. However, most of it was necessary in order to understand Pi's faith in God, which was essentially what stopped him from losing hope during the ordeal. Growing up, Pi is the son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry and he knows plenty about the animals his father kept, including the dangers of Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger who had been brought to them as a cub and grown in captivity. When his family's voyage to Canada begins, the animals are loaded onto the Japanese cargo ship under sedatives. One night, while they sail across the Pacific, the cargo ship sudden sinks and Pi is left stranded on a lifeboat with a handful of animals, who all eventually die, except for Richard Parker, the fully grown male Bengal tiger. Despite Pi's fear of drowning, dying of malnutrition, and becoming Richard Parker's next meal, he has a strange determination to survive the ordeal, which is propelled both by his fears and by his faith in God. For 227 days, Pi manages to survive, literally in the same boat as Richard Parker, until they eventually wash ashore.

One of the things I really came to like about this book was that the ending wasn't a complete happily ever after. Pi suffered through an awful experience and somehow came out alive, but alone. In the end, even after 227 days at sea together, Richard Parker abandons him as soon as they find land. But Pi has learned a great many things about himself, about life, about his capacity for faith, and about willpower. Pi was forced to do things he would never have considered doing before the ordeal and had to improvise ways to practice his faith, in order to both stay alive and keep himself from despair. He was lucky in one of the most unlucky and unlikely ways and left with only his own life, which he had to rebuild alone. Yann Martel illustrated an inspiring determination and will to survive, the strength of human instinct, faith, and our ability to learn through experience.

I've now read 5/24 books for my 2013 Reading Challenge on Goodreads. I'm a little behind, but I know I can make up for it once classes are over for the year.

Have you read Life of Pi, or seen the movie? Have you ever been stranded in a lifeboat with a tiger? What else have you been reading?

- Bonnee.

11 comments:

  1. I've only seen the movie and loved it. I should make the time to read the book also.

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    1. I hope you do, it was a great read. :) Thanks for stopping by, Lynda.

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  2. Now to mess with your head....each of the animals on the lifeboat were a symbol of aspects of Pi's personality, each of which disappears in despair until all that is left the is strong but dangerous "tiger" that he is left being. Which is sad, but had to happen else he would be "swallowed up"

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    1. That's not too confusing, though I'll have to think now what each of the other animals represented in him. I didn't want to spoil the ending in the post itself, but that representation can be gathered from the story Pi ends up telling the Japanese men at the end, where the Hyena was the cook, the Orangutan was his mother, the Zebra was an injured sailor, and he was the Tiger. What were the parts of Pi they represented?

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  3. Strangely enough, I *have* been stranded in a lifeboat with a tiger.

    In all seriousness, I read the book but haven't seen the movie, and I think it was interesting how you could see the effects of the ordeal in certain aspects of grown-up Pi's life, such as his overstuffed pantry. That reminded me of my in-laws, who grew up during the Great Depression and overbought all the time.

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    1. I can't remember if they showed it in the movie or not, but at the end of the book when he's telling some people his recount, he was nabbing everything food-wise he could get and hiding it under his blanket. I guess experiences like that drill in the importance of something like having reserves of food. Just in case...

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    2. That was for sure the case with my in-laws. If something was on sale, they bought extras. Their pantry was loaded. At one point, my wife and I were cleaning things out and we found an unopened can of coffee that had to be 20 years old based on the label. And they would give it to us good if we threw away food.

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    3. 20 year old coffee? Was it still okay to use?

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    4. We didn't find out.

      Along those lines, a friend once found a six-pack of beer behind the oil tank in his parents' basement, of a brand we'd never heard of. We got a brief history lesson/nostalgia trip from his father about a long-defunct brewery, and learned that beer does not keep for 30 years.

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  4. I saw parts of the movie but didn't read the story. I guess the story of a man with a tiger on a boat for many days doesn't appeal to me, and also don't like discovery of faith and religion. But I know that millions enjoy the book and the movie, so all is well.

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    1. I was skeptical about it when I first realised it was going to be about religion, because I don't like the idea of those stories much either, but I think Yann Martel told the story in a way I was alright with. Of course, it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea.

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