Book Review: “Life of Pi”, by Yann Martel

February 14, 2023

Plot

Written by Yann Martel, Life of Pi is narrated in first person by the Indian boy Pi Patel, who tells the story looking back to his childhood, then shifting back to his present life. Living in Pondicherry with his mother, father and brother Ravi, he was picked on for his peculiar name, but tells his classmates and professors to call him by a new nickname, Pi. With few friends at school, he finds joy in the animals at the zoo and in religion; narrating how he finds himself following Hinduism, Christianity and lastly Islam. One day, his father reminds Pi and Ravi of the dangerous nature of the animals by feeding a live goat to their majestic, yet aggressive, Bengal tiger. Pushed by India’s political strife, the family decides to move to Toronto in Canada. They end up on a Chinese ship, the Tsimtsum, with many of their animals, who were being carried to other American zoos. One fatal night, a large storm makes the boat sink, and the reader is immersed into Pi’s confused memories. Unfortunately, the rest of his family is left inside, and the boy only later learns their fate. He ends up on a safety boat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and the Bengal tiger. The book narrates his long journey through the Atlantic, and is filled with ingenious solutions and nail-biting moments.

Characters

Pi

The main character is Piscine Molitor Patel, named after a Parisian swimming pool, but he goes by Pi. The boy is 16 during the events of the story, however, the book is narrated by a middle-aged Pi who lives in Canada. He shows great strength, adaptability and courage in surviving through the journey and its loneliness.

Richard Parker

The second most important character is the tiger Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger that lives with Pi after the sinking of the Tsimtsum, and is kept alive by the boy to keep himself safe from his terrible hunger. The two become ‘friends’ in some way supporting each other in their difficult situation.

Pi’s family and mentors

Secondary characters that appear in the novel are Pi’s family and his two guides. His family is made of his father Santosh, affectionate and reasonable, his mother Gita, comforting and protective, and his brother Ravi, intelligent and playful. There are also two mentors to the protagonist, both called Satish Kumar with opposing points of view, one being an atheist biology teacher and the other a Muslim mystic. They represent the contrasting views that coexist in Pi’s life, who is simultaneously a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim and, on certain occasions, even an atheist.

The animals

Another three characters that appear in the novel are animals from the Pondicherry zoo. They are an orangutan, which represents Pi’s empathy, a zebra, the boy’s innocence, and a hyena, his fear. The tiger, on the other hand, represents the love and fear that Pi feels towards God, making it the representation of religion and faith.

Opinions and Recommendations

We recommend this book to anyone who enjoys adventure and survival novels, as well as books that show different cultures and religions. Life of Pi is very interesting and engaging, making the reader go through a rollercoaster of emotions. It does this thanks to its varied characters and its fascinating story, full of unusual allegories and surreal settings.

Here is a list of books that we would recommend if you enjoyed Life of Pi:

  • The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
  • The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
  • Some Kind of Happiness – Claire Legrand
  • The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  • A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe – Douglas Adams

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