Publisher: Vintage Canada
Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel -- known as Pi -- has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practise three religions -- Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.
But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest of travelling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker’s next meal.
As the days pass, Pi fights both boredom and terror by throwing himself into the practical details of surviving on the open sea -- catching fish, collecting rain water, protecting himself from the sun -- all the while ensuring that the tiger is also kept alive, and knows that Pi is the key to his survival. The castaways face gruelling pain in their brushes with starvation, illness, and the storms that lash the small boat, but there is also the solace of beauty: the rainbow hues of a dorado’s death-throes, the peaceful eye of a looming whale, the shimmering blues of the ocean’s swells. Hope is fleeting, however, and despite adapting his religious practices to his daily routine, Pi feels the constant, pressing weight of despair. It is during the most hopeless and gruelling days of his voyage that Pi whittles to the core of his beliefs, casts off his own assumptions, and faces his underlying terrors head-on.
I really, really, really wanted to like this book. I have heard so many positive things about it, there has been so much hype about the story, but unfortunately that was not the case. I found this novel to be quite tedious at times and not overly enjoyable to read. Yes, there were some good parts, the main story line wasn't half bad, but there were many problems with this book - let's start at the beginning.
Part One: Pi's childhood at the zoo in Pondicherry. In this part of the novel, I learned more than I ever thought I would about managing a zoo in India. Entire chapters were dedicated to different aspects of zoology. Then all of a sudden, it flips to Pi's unique religious beliefs. Then to his struggles in school because of his name, which I can totally relate to, but then back to some other aspect of zoology. Had the organization and the flow been better, I probably would have enjoyed this part of the novel a lot more than I did. And after 60 pages of zoology, I was beginning to wonder... when is the boat going to sink? When is the real story going to finally start?
Part Two: The boat sinks. Pi is forced onto a lifeboat with a strange collection of zoo animals: a hyena, an orang-utang, a zebra with a broken leg and a Bengal tiger. Clearly, this arrangement isn't going to last long. And yet ... it does. The actual description of Pi's life on the lifeboat and on his raft wasn't horrible, in fact it was probably one of the most interesting parts of the book. However there were times where I wished that the tiger would finally just eat him! Put the poor kid out of his misery and eat him. Especially when the tiger started to talk to Pi near the end of his voyage.
Part Three: Ugh! Apparently there was really no animals, they were really all humans. Therefore you come to the grizzly discovery that there was definitely some cannibalism going on on that lifeboat. And that notion killed the novel for me. It tied in the spiritual aspect from the first part of the novel but it just wasn't enough to redeem the novel.
Another one of my many qualms about this book - the number of freaking chapters! There were 100 chapters in a 367 page book. A little ridiculous if you ask me, especially considering one of the chapters was a whopping 3 sentences long. Was that really necessary? An the italic voice ... necessary? Really?
I get the point, there are two different versions of the same story which relates to Pi's religious beliefs that there are different religions, all serving one God, and it is up to you to decide which story to believe. Which is the better story. The novel promises us that we will believe in God, however it seems to me that the author is really saying that we will decide which story about God is best, hence choosing a religion, therefore believing in God. Using animals as metaphors, replacing people with zoo animals does make the story more pleasing to read, I would much rather read about a hyena tearing apart, then eating a zebra rather than a deranged cook committing the act of cannibalism. The story however, does nothing to enhance my beliefs in God. Instead, the message I got was to look at your own life, look at your own world views. Do you tend to believe the better but less likely story or do you tend to believe the more likely story that isn't as lovely as the first? What view of reality do you tend to hold? Are you governed by your emotions or rational?
So would I recommend this book? I'm not sure. I'm a huge believer in reading the book before seeing the movie, so that being said, if you are like me then read the book before seeing the movie. But otherwise ... either you love it or you hate it.