Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi is a Canadian philosophical novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The novel has sold more than ten million copies worldwide. It was rejected by at least five London publishing houses before being accepted by Knopf Canada, which published it in September 2001. The UK edition won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction the following year. It was also chosen for CBC Radio’s Canada Reads 2003, where it was championed by author Nancy Lee.

Book Summary and Review

This is a story about a young man named Piscine Patel, or Pi, whose family owns a zoo in India.  Growing up, Pi is interested in religion and so he converts to each of the major religions:  Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. The family decides to move to Canada, but on the way there, their ship sinks and Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with a tiger, Richard Parker, a hyena, a zebra, and an orangutan.  

Pi manages to keep himself separated from the other animals and all he can do is watch as the hyena kills the zebra and orangutan. Pi is afraid that he will be next to be killed, but the tiger kills the hyena. Pi decides to build an adjoining raft that is connected to the lifeboat by rope and luckily finds survival supplies, such as food and water.

Instead of waiting for the tiger to die, Pi decides he must train the tiger to ensure his own personal survival.  Pi learns to fish and begins feeding the tiger, slowly training and taming him.

As food and water supplies dwindle, Pi suffers from health problems such as blisters and dehydration. He also becomes temporarily blind.  Pi encounters another blind man who is also floating on a boat.  However, the man comes aboard and the tiger eats him.

When Pi’s eyesight returns, he sees an island in the distance.  He arrives on the island and finds algae that he can eat.  The island has fresh water and is home to a large meerkat colony who eat fish. Life on the island is great, but then Pi realizes that the algae is carnivorous and so he gets back on the boat with the tiger and heads off.

The boat eventually reaches Mexico and Pi is rescued.  In the end, Pi is questioned by investigators about his journey and despite being skeptical, they believe his story.

A lot can be said about this story, but what draws my interest and attention is the idea of how a zoo can actually be more beneficial for a wild animal than the wild.

Pi goes to great lengths to explain how harsh conditions are for wild animals and how nice life in a zoo really is.  We tend to have a romantic sense of what the wild is like for animals, but the reality is that animals in the wild are either looking for food or trying not to be food for something else.

It seems like a stressful existence in the wild, where each day could be your last and you are literally playing a game of life or death.  And most humans wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild, especially since we’ve modernized ourselves to the luxuries of technology and civilization.

This also brings a greater appreciation to what we, as humans, have done with our food and safety needs:  bringing them closer to us in a more controlled environment.

It’s comforting to know that our food is about twenty feet away from us whenever I want and if we run out of food, we can go to a building that has more food for us to buy.

We and our possessions are safe from the weather and we don’t need to worry about being attacked by predators.

So while it may seem lonely that the animals in zoos are confined to a limited space, we are looking at them through the eyes of a species that has, for the most part, everything it needs within reach.  We are smart enough to understand that protecting ourselves and surviving that way is far greater than being free in the wild and nature. 

Categories: Book Reviews, Education