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Life of Pi: A Novel ()

Booker Prize Winners

Read Orrin's interview with Yann Martel

    Well-meaning but misinformed people think animals in the wild are "happy" because they are "free".  [...] The life of the wild animal is simple,
    noble and meaningful they imagine.  Then it is captured by wicked men and thrown into tiny jails.  Its "happiness" is dashed.  It yearns
    mightily for "freedom" and does all it can to escape.  Being denied its "freedom" for too long, the animal becomes a shadow of itself, its spirit
    broken.  So some people imagine.

    This is not the way it is.

    Animals in the wild lead lives of compulsion and necessity within an unforgiving social hierarchy in an environment where the supply of fear
    is high and the supply of food low and where territory must constantly be defended and parasites forever endured.  What is the meaning of
    freedom in such a context?
        -Life of Pi

Whatever else it may be, and it may be a fable or a hallucination or something altogether beyond our ken, Canadian author Yann Martel's Life of Pi is an absolutely mesmerizing bit of storytelling, one that will keep you reading from cover to cover without a pause.  Within, he tells the story, framed by author's comments which suggest it is a true story, of an Indian boy, Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel, named for a swimming pool in Paris, who spent a thoroughly improbable, though entirely compelling, 227 days (from July 2, 1977 to February 14th, 1978)  lost at sea in a lifeboat with a 450 pound Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker.

Boy and tiger were originally on board a Japanese freighter that was transporting them and the Patel family along with numerous other animals to Canada, to which the Patels were transplanting themselves and their zoo, from Pondicherry, India to escape political unrest.  A zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, some rats, and a few cockroaches survived the initial sinking, but not Richard Parker's predations.  Only Pi and the tiger eventually made it to Mexico, where they washed up on a beach before Richard Parker disappeared. During their time in the lifeboat, and on a makeshift raft that Pi made himself, to put some distance between himself and the big cat, transpired a remarkable story of survival and of natural selection in all its gory glory.

It is a story, as an old man in India told the author, "that will make you believe in God".  Or, maybe it isn't.  Maybe it's the kind of story that will make you believe in the human need to tell stories in order to make sense of our existence, an animal story told by the most dangerous of all the animals, but nonetheless the one animal that tells story and that knows God.  Or maybe it's just a fairy tale.  At any rate, it's a terrifically readable and enjoyable novel (?) and Pi Patel, a Hindu/Muslim/Christian--who when he swears says "Jesus, Mary, Mohammed and Vishnu!" and who's felt the presence of God--seems certain to become one of the most fondly remembered narrator/heroes of modern fiction.


Grade: (A)


Yann Martel Links:

    -INTERVIEW: Lunch with the FT: Yann Martel (Rahul Jacob, May 30 2003, Financial Times)
    -PROFILE: Yann Martel's life after Pi: Yann Martel’s struggle to follow up his global breakthrough (Mark Medley, 4/09/10, National Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Randy Boyagoda, First Things)
    -REVIEW: of Beatrice and Virgil: A Novel by Yann Martel (Susan Salter Reynolds, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Beatrice and Virgil (Clea Simon, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW: of Beatrice and Virgil (the Tablet)
    -REVIEW: of Beatrice and Virgil ()
    -REVIEW: of Beatrice and Virgil ()
    -REVIEW: of Beatrice and Virgil ()

Book-related and General Links:
    -Yann Martel (Random House)
    -BIO : Yann Martel (Opening Night)
    -EXCERPT : from Life of Pi
    -ARTICLE : Veterans vie with newcomer in Booker prize stakes (John Ezard, The Guardian, 19 August, 2002)
    -ARTICLE: Scandal factors into 'Pi' equation (Deirdre Donahue, 11/11/02, USA TODAY)
    -PROFILE: When greatness is thrust upon them: Will the Booker Prize be the making of Yann Martel or the ruin of him? (Tom Payne, 26/10/2002, Daily Telegraph)
    -PROFILE: A life as simple as Pi (Emily Bearn, 30/10/2002, Daily Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: For Canada's Top Novelists, Being Born Abroad Helps: A good many if not a majority of the leading lights of Canadian letters today are immigrants, including the three finalists for the Booker Prize this year. (NY Times, 11/05/02)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES : Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Reviews of Books)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Gary Krist, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Francie Lin, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Judith Palmer, Independent)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Suzy Hansen, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Tim Adams, The Observer)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Justine Jordan, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Life of Pi (James Wood, London Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Iain Sharp, Stuff)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Padma Viswanathan, Montreal Review of Books)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Jonathan Kiefer, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Toby Clements, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Bryan Walsh, TIME)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (Stein Haukland, Ink 19)
    -REVIEW : of Life of Pi (David Flood, Seattle Times)
   -AWARD: Canadian Yann Martel Wins Book Prize (AP, 10/22/02)
   -PROFILE: God, the devil, and the deep blue sea: Novelist Yann Martel talks matters of faith in 'Life of Pi' (Todd Leopold, October 21, 2002, CNN)