Life of Pi

by Yann Martel

ISBN: 0151008116

I often have a difficult time writing about books I love. I feel like I won’t do them justice, or that I won’t be able to explain well enough why a person should go read this book right now. I feel that way about this book. It is an amazing novel.

So, how to talk about it? How not to spoil the magic by giving away too much?

I’ll start with the narrative structure. It is told as a story within a story in precisely 100 short chapters. The tone, the level of description, the pacing all grabbed me and sucked me in, and I knew I would keep reading (compulsively) until I was finished. Not so unusual, you might be thinking, but considering that you know early on how it will end, and how long it will take, that is something of a feat. This is the story of a boy who is shipwrecked, and survives in a lifeboat for months. With a tiger. And finds God with him as he floats across the Pacific Ocean.

Actually, a character in the book, who is quoted on the bookjacket, says it will make you believe in God, and asks if a reader can “reasonably ask for anything more.” Having a belief in a higher power before reading the book, I can’t really say if it will make a person believe or not. I think it will at least make someone who didn’t believe see why another person would. As Pi (who to the consternation of all around him, has followed a Hindu and a Muslim and a Christian path) says: “Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love–but sometimes it was so hard to love.”

Not that the author is proselytizing. He isn’t. He is telling his story and the twist in the end has to do with believability, but a reader is left with open options.

The book is beautiful, for its descriptions of animals (the main character’s father is a zoo keeper in India) and the ocean. And faith, and believability.

I can’t resist another quote. Near the end, when two men are questioning Pi, and doubting his story, he tells them this:

Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to belief, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?

I will probably reread this book, and soon. L also read it, and we are thinking about reading it out loud to each other. It has catapulted itself into each of our mythical “top five novels” lists. I loved Life of Pi and can’t recommend it enough.

84 thoughts on “Life of Pi

  1. I can’t agree with you more! I loved this book so much that I’ve been on what seems like a crusade to get absolutely everyone I know to read it. I’m counting down the days until the Booker Prize and praying it wins because then I know in 20 years it will still have a place on library book shelves where it will keep being discovered. I plan to read it again soon with a pencil to mark off all the incredible quotes that still float around in my head, his description of killing the dorado as “killing a rainbow” was so vivid.

    I just found your site, I’m sure I’ll be back and I’ll try to pass on any other great books I read.

  2. I read this book and I loved it! I would really like to believe that the story was true and not just a representation of what really happened. I would like to know other peoples opinions on the matter. Thanks

  3. This is the most inspiring book I have read in a long time. Inspiring because there are contemporary writers out there who are gifted masters of the brush and the pen. I read this book in 27 hours because I was not going to sleep until I knew Pi and Richard Parker, and now I do.
    Joyce would have read this book and had another epiphany!

  4. i loved the book. i was a bit unsure at the begining as it was a bit enigmatic but once getting to the end it had my mind working. i belive the story with the animals, simply because he wouldnt be able to go into so much detail if they werent really there….or would he?the son of zoo keeper..maybe he would.
    ID RATHER believe the animal story, i side with the japanese inpsectors on this one.
    Richard parker alter ego?

  5. Just finished the book twenty minutes ago and have since been scouring the Internet for comments/analyses. I’m having a hard time digesting the end.

    I LOVED this book–was drawn to it in the most random way at the bookstore, on a day I hadn’t intended to go there or buy anything. God put it there for me to find? And consequently it is Pi’s final comment on God that I can’t yet grasp: where is Martel trying to direct us when Okamoto and Chiba choose the animal story? Is it human interpretation of reality/God he’s commenting on or is it a comment on God’s choice of “stories” for mankind? Or something else altogether?

    I know what I want it to be, but I can’t yet make it work…

    My vote for best passage: p. 161-162 (fear).

  6. Absolutely stunning piece of writing, I cannot recall ever being so enthralled by a book in all my life. The whole story A versus Story B does not even worry me but i am amazed to find myself immediately looking for others views almost as soon as I finish. Also astounded to find that people have had the self same reaction as I did with regards to reading it aloud to a friend or re-reading the book and highlighting some of the fabulous quotes that appear at almost every turn…awesome!!!

  7. What a wonderful story. It is exactly the type of book that, after reading it, you want to find someone else who has read it and talk and talk and talk about it. The narrative is both so moving and, at times, horrifying, that you can’t help but get drawn into it. I agree with the first post by JS – it’s not that this book will make you believe in God, it’s that regardless of your stance on the matter it will make you re-examine your reasons why or why not you would believe in God. Life of Pi makes you ask questions and have a think after you finish it, even though it is clearly fiction.

    This brings me to the post by John W, asking where Martel is trying to direct us when the Japanese choose the animal story. Like in most great books I think that this is left for you to decide for yourself – for me I keep thinking about how Pi keeps telling us how he would not have survived without Richard Parker. Yes, both stories are equally plausible and improvable, but only one story gives Pi the spirit to survive his ordeal. That’s what I take from it, at least, that in times of terrible ordeal it is often those who believe in God that have the will to endure. Without Richard Parker, Pi would have died – this is why the animal story is the “better” story.

    I’d love to hear other people’s takes!!

  8. I was captivated by the third page and have thought about Pi and Richard Parker many times since finishing the book. Once you close the book the story does not end, rather it evolves into something new everytime you probe deeper into it. It’s rare to find a story like that these days, and is one of the things that makes Life of Pi such a charming tale. This book made me want to discuss it further with others who have also read it and so it is the first choice of a little book club I started, mostly to discuss this one book!! Thank you Yann Martel.

  9. What a story.The better story, all I kept thinking about was the tree different mostly opposing stories of the Three Wise Men Pi and his parents meet while strolling in India. The better story – does he mean to say the better religion, since religions are all seemingly rooted in some sort textual document i.e. the stories in the Bible or the stories told by the Hopi Indians. Does the better story question make all religious documents nothing more than interpretive or precriptive stories base on some unknown reality. I really love his comparison of the final moment of the agnostic and the atheiest where he wonders if by not making a deathbed leap of faith the agnostic simply missed the.. better story.

  10. I thought I had read great literature before, but this novel tops my list! I can see that the story also had profound effects on others. I think it definately comes down to the better story concept. Maybe there is no god (the “believable” story), but maybe there is (the Richard Parker story), and since either is possible which would you rather believe. In my heart at the end of the novel I wanted to believe the Parker (better) story. I loved the analogy, I don’t know if it changed my opinion on god, but it made me question it. I’m amazed at that alone!

    I already lent my copy out, wish I could be more specific, but so many passages cry out in my memory- the agnostic vs atheist vs believer I believe is the finest. The island is a great challenge to our belief in the story. It’s all so wonderful. I have read many reviews where the novel is criticized as being slow at first. I didn’t feel that way at all. Did anyone else?

    So, if anyone has read something they consider on par with or better than Life of Pi please reply or send me an email. Everything I have read since has paled in comparison.

  11. my friends and I can’t stop talking/thinking about this book- Is Richard Parker Pi’s alter ego? Are the Hyena, Zebra and Orangutan the evil cook, the sailor and Pi’s mother? What is the island? heaven and hell? Is Richard Parker the embodiment of God? Life force, death, stregnth? Mostly we are all wondering about the island- life supporting in day, death producing at night- what do people out there think about the island? This is easily the most provocative book I have read since “Slaughterhouse Five”. Spiritual.

  12. I finished this book last night, and like so many others, have been scouring the internet for discussions about it. Unlike the other commenters, however, it seems to me that both “stories” that Pi tells are true….the human story is what really happened, and the animal story is what kept him alive on the lifeboat. Richard Parker is Pi, and is also the strength of God that Pi found within himself — and allowed him to survive. The animal story is the “better” story — i.e., it is the more fantastical, and is the one that brings Pi (and his listeners) closer to God. But the “better” story, in this case, is not the “true” story…it is simply the story that, I think, Martel wants us to remember…because it will maybe bring us closer to God ourselves. (On another note, it seems to me important that the tiger’s name is “Richard Parker” — such a simple, common name — while such a great deal is made about the uniqueness of Pi’s name. Richard Parker is what Pi wants to be, what he strives for within himself; he is Pi’s internal voice. Gosh, I wish I had a book club!)

  13. Hey. I was ‘forced’ to read this in my Grade 13 English class. I thought the first bit was pretty dry, but as soon as the accident happened, the book didnt seem as stale.

    I ended up reading it over a second time just because I wanted to. It was overall a really good book.

  14. what a story,the end is doing my head in,which is the real story?is it all metaphorical?was the island real?some great quotes about fear.it did take a while to get going for me but after the accident it really gripped me.a brilliant novel

  15. wow. i really think this book is fantastic. I really wolud like to believe the animal story, but after reading the novel i have been through various websites. Does anyone know that the Tsimtsum wasnt even a proper ship, and that it is actually a religious word? Also Pi (as in the mathematical symbol) written in fraction form 22/7. This when calculated gives the answer 3.142…..Pi. Sorry to burst your bubble, and i was severly disappointed when i discovered this, but this novel is now in my top 3 favourite books. It was interestin to read everybody elses thoughts and it has made me think about it a lot.

  16. “(On another note, it seems to me important that the tiger’s name is “Richard Parker” — such a simple, common name — while such a great deal is made about the uniqueness of Pi’s name. Richard Parker is what Pi wants to be, what he strives for within himself; he is Pi’s internal voice.)”
    That may be so, but in India Richard Parker probably isn’t a very common name as it is.
    “Also Pi (as in the mathematical symbol) written in fraction form 22/7. This when calculated gives the answer 3.142…..Pi.” And your point is? We already know that he purposely changed his real name to the nickname “Pi” meaning 3.14 etc…

  17. Hate to burst YOUR bubble Jen, but 22/7 is a highly inaccurate approximation for Pi which fails at the third decimal place. As Martel notes, Pi is a completely irrational number which can never be expressed to absolute accuracy. Similarly, the use of the word “Tsimtsum” is symbolic, so there;s nothing more to say there. Glad you liked the book though.

  18. I am still reading this book and I find it extremely captivating. I can hardly put it down. I would recommend “Life of Pi” to anyone.

  19. i found this book very profound and almost original.
    I totally fell in love with Richard Parker, loved him for his companionship with Pi, hated him for the way he left Pi…..he could have said some type of goodbye….that bit….really got my emotions going…and i cried my eyes out…and i never never cry!
    that was cry number 1
    cry number 2 was when the japs never believed him!
    cry number 3 was the last sentence of the whole book!

    ive lent this book out to all my freinds on the false pre-tence thats its a true story…otherwise they will not read it…and i want everyone to read it…..who wants to read a piece of fiction about a poor indian trapped on a lifeboat with a ten ton tiger called richard parker.

    in my mind, its a true story……you just gotta let yr imagination run a bit wild ….my wife could well be richard…in fact she IS.!

    loved it very much
    Daz

  20. sorry….just to continue a bit more…
    having read this book a second time……dont you think that richard could have been his farther?….and he could have suffered abuse?…and!….maybe his second story to the japs was the real story?

    sh/?t i keep forgeting its fiction
    Daz

  21. sorry….i wont post anymore after this…..
    did anyone else get tearful after reading this masterpiece?
    my wife thinks im stupid to cry over a dumb book.

  22. Cracking story, but one bit almost ruined it for me. My problem is that I think Yann Martel has got agnostic & atheist mixed up.. remember the bit about how horrible it must be to die a unbelieving ‘agnostic'(Chapter 22 – p85 in my edition), whilst the ‘atheist’ dies seeing god at last. This is surely back to front. Personally, I’m an true unbeliver, and see no evidence for God, and feel no need for God – i.e. atheist. My girlfriend however, has not found her God, but believes there may be something out there – i.e. an agnostic. However – still a storming book! C

    Either the printers has set the type wrong, I am reading it wrong or Martel is wrong.

  23. Life of Pi takes us through the journey of a innocent boy, who truly belives in god. The Pi experiecnes wrecking situations where almost all hope is lost, however his imagination keeps him going. He makes the reader believe that intellect may be proved wrong, but your belief in God cannot. People that base eeverything on proof,are plain. A person needs to belive in what cannot be proven or seen,because that is what brings light to us when we are in complete darkness, the unknown. Like Pi and the tiger, we also need a companion throughout life, we can choose whether we want god as our companion or our imagination,it really is the same. Pi chooses a tiger as his companion, and that keeps him going, many other people choose god as their companion which keeps them going. The point is , people who do no belive in the unseen are more likely to give up on life in the most desperate situations than people who belive in the unseen and unknown.

  24. I totally loved this book! Also, I enjoyed this site- so many opinions! I was looking for a review for a project, but this was fun to read. If Daz reads this site again- I think Richard is really Pi’s many burdens in life, his doubts and fears. After Pi goes through this entire journey and finds his inner peace, Richard can leave, and symbolizing Pi’s freedom from his burden. Does that make sense? I completely agree with the anon comment from March (except that Pi did choose God as his companion). And I beleive the first story is true, not the story he tells the japs. (Remember the meerkats’ skeletons found in the boat?) Well, I want to believe that one!

  25. I like all the interesting comments on this page and I am beginning to have more insight. Everything about religion and animals started to make sense on the third section to me. pi had a beleif and his spiritual knowledge gave him the attitude to ‘grab life by the horns’ and face his problems. Hence, the whole idea of the intincts of a tiger and the way tigers think- strength, loyalty, willingness, stubborness to face all problems that come his way. i guess from the real story, his father and Ravi died first because they had no beleif, his mother died later because she got excited sometimes of the spiritual beleif that pi had and then pi himself who survived till the end. what pi is trying to get out here is miracles, wonders and beleiving in the unknown and the “supernatural”

  26. I read this book in my English class and I absolutely hated it! I thought that it was the worst book I had ever read…but then I had to right a paper on it, comparing it to George Eliot’s “Comment” on Realism. By the time I had finished the paper, I was a believer. I saw what I hadn’t seen before. This book is definetly worth a read or two!

  27. I found a completely different opinion, which is why i love this book so much, i feel that the different realities at the end pose as religious beleifs and real truths, his story of the tiger is a much nicer story it is what everyone including the reader wants to beleive even if it isnt true, the japanese men beleive it because it sounds better than a story about cannibalism and vengance, atheism would be to look at the truth and the falsity is to beleive the made up story, then again the stories could be switched and it still fits, people are unwilling to beleive the story of animals so they need to hear something that makes there lack of knowledge ok, then again there are religious undertones that try to boost gods image, its so twisted i dont know what to think although this book would never make me beleive in god, however i do like how it shows conflicting religions and it helps to show the foundations of religion, this boy pi loves to love a higher power he beleives in many reasons for the sake of love and not some stupid greedy reason of many ecclesiastical people these days, anyways thats my two cents

  28. After finishing Life of Pi, I’ve decided that I hate the book. I don’t want to believe that there was another “story” of what happened. Well actually, I don’t hate the book. I love it and how much of a fight it put through my head after reading it, my mind going back and forth, not knowing what to believe. I just hate the fact that it’s fiction.

  29. hi,
    we read this novel in our grade 11,english class. overall i thought it was an O.K book…..definitely not my fav. but….i need help! we are to write an essay, and we can pick any topic[it has to relate to life of pi] so i picked the topic ” which story is better”…i read a lot of ur opinions in this site…if you guys have thing else to say….that would directly relate to my topic please email them to me. thank you

  30. Hi! I am reading this book as part of my higher english course and i must say i think it is facinating! I have not yet finished the book but will have by the end of the week. i have to write an essay on the book in the near future…It would be great if anyone could give me any tips or insights into the structure and the layout of my essay. I am currently thinking on the type of question i am going to set myself to write about in my essay. I enjoyed reading everyones opinions! it has helped me a great deal. Thanx

  31. Let me start by saying I think Richard Parker must be the part of Pi (himself) that makes him capable of things the familiar Pi would not be able to. (As a consequence, who killed/ate the other victims? Richard Parker as a cover-up? Somewhere in the beginning Pi tells us that he felt he had the absolute will for survival in him..)

    The name Richard Parker:
    By the way, in the story about Arthur Gordon Pym, by Edgar allen Poe, there is a Richard Parker who is killed and eaten by the other three victims of a shipwreck;
    50 years later in 1884, in real life, a man was killed and eaten by his three fellow victims of a shipwreck (ms. mignonette) and this man’s name was.. also Richard Parker.(!)

  32. Over everything else the greatest reason I consider Pi to be an odd character is his religion, or rather three religions. Just thinking about it makes a person laugh. Though the only religion he truly understands or has at least come close to understanding is Hinduism. Islam and Christianity are greatly similar. Both Christianity and Islam are monotheist religions. Muslims believe that there is one God and Muhammad is his prophet. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. So Pi simply cannot be Christian or Muslim no matter how much he prays or goes to the church. Pi doesn’t truly understand the religions and the only reason he wants to be all three religions is to get closer to god. Rather than accept this Pi chooses to think he’s all three religions showing how ignorant he truly is. Beginning was broing and ending was better. I was forced to this book for class and we have an essay on it. Definitely not top ten material but not a bad book. This book wasn’t in any way religously inspiring sez the 15 yr old kid who it seems know much more than these guy swho wrote the comments and i don’t even consider myself smart. i was just looking for something to help me with my essay so i read the comments. those of u actually waste your time looking for comments on it on the internet need to get a life. i even read that some dum chic cried several times reading this book though she said that she usually isn’t emotional whereas in no way is this book emotional and there isn’t anything to cry about. what is this world coming to when Bush gets voted president of America even after the release of Fahrenheit 9/11. the only good thing that’s coming from this guys presidency is the alliance between Pakistan and America. that’s good for my country any ways. i lived in America 4 yrs and other places the rest of my life and the only thing i’ve ever heard about America from those who aren’t americans is that americans are ignorant of the rest of the world.

  33. We just finished reading this book for english class.We enjoyed it but have nothing deep or meaningful to say about it.People please try to be politically correct when you are posting. They are called “the japanese” not japs. thanks

  34. Vital Notes on Life of Pi:
    -Two main themes: theology and zoology
    -Main Points:
    1) All religions lead to the same God.
    2) People can be familiarized with anything.
    3) Fear and despair are worse than physical dangers.
    4) Companionship is man’s innermost desire.
    5) People like to believe events that do not make them think.
    -Age of Pi: 42 (as of July 2004)
    -Mamaji (Pi’s family friend) says, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” What that means is this story will make people re-think about what they have to lose and what there is to gain about believing in God.
    -Richard Parker’s current status: most likely dead (28 years old – 10 years above normal tiger lifespan).
    -This is a FICTIONAL story (although the author’s note may make you think otherwise).
    -Family status: Wife, two kids (one boy one girl), cat.
    -Suggested Reading: Oryx and Crakes (Margaret Atwood)

  35. The point of this novel is not which story is the better, or which is the true story because it is irrelevant. What is important is that we the reader, want to believe the animal story. For those who have commented that they cannot understand the religious side to this story here is where it lies. We as the reader long to believe the animal story happened, as would a religious person from any faith (Islam, Hindu, Christianity) believe in their religious text, take it as the truth. Yann Martel puts a non-believer in the shoes of a believer. In choosing the animal story as the preferred one we are putting faith in the divine, putting our faith in the will of a boy to live, by keeping his faith alive (Richard Parker). Ultimately that is choosing god. If by reason we decide that we must pick the human story then we choose by our heart to believe the animal version. If in fact we take the human story as the reality we must ultimately admit that humanity is rooted in the animal condition. Pi’s need to become the tiger comes about because as Richard Parker he represents all that a tiger does and no longer is accountable to god. “…I noticed, with a pinching of the heart, that I ate like an animal, that this noisy, frantic, unchewing wolfing-down of mine was exactly the way Richard Parker ate.? (Page 225). Hope that helps with the essay’ dudes.

  36. i dont understand this book very much. i dont understand the two stories in the book (one in bold and italized) and wats going on in the 2nd story where Pi is older. i was reading and i’m confused who richard parker is but i know that sometimes Pi refers the bengel tiger as r.p. and i thought that the bengel tiger drowned and did not dispatch all the other animals…please help me. because i want to understand this wonderful story..
    send your response to : chunkiemonkeys@yahoo.com

  37. I loved this book, i just need a little bit of help on my essay, could someone elaborate on this, it would be greatly apprisiated.
    “Yann Martel tells this story of Pi Patel as if it were true, which makes the reader come closer to the characters and question if this story of survival actually happened.”

  38. Awesome, awesome book, started off okayish, got a lot better after the boat sank and the last few pages totally blew me away! I totally agree with Nick, the reason Pi was three different religions at once wasnt through ignorance, quite the opposite. The point was that all religions, when the rituals and ceremony are stripped away, are built from a core of faith in something that you can never prove to be true (i.e. ‘God is faith’ and all that malarkey). The two stories reflect two different attitudes to god, the animal one represents a religious view of the events, the ‘true’ human story the athiest standpoint. To be truly athiest requires as much faith as to be religious, athiests cant prove there is no god as religious folk cant prove there is one, and its all down to which story you’d prefer to believe, the beautiful story of the animals, or the brutal cold reality… ‘so tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer’ (p 317). He didn’t have athiest and agnostic mixed up, he challenges agnostic people for having no strong faith either way.
    Interestingly, Tsimtsum is an old kabalistic term that means ‘contraction’, in the sense that God contracted within himself to make space for the universe during the creation, i.e. before he could make something, he had to contract to virtually nothing, in the same way that Pi’s real test of faith, an arduous yet defining ordeal that turned him into the man he is today, could only have taken place after he lost everything. Tsimtsum is also a link in the book to Judaism, although it sounds Japanese it’s actually a Hebrew word.
    This book also has perhaps the best closing sentence I have ever read.

  39. This book was really good it’s just that when you try to find some good quotes to help you understand the book it makes it really hard.Is there a site were you can find some good quotes so i can understand the ful concept of the book.I also didn’t get the part about who orange juice is in the second part if any body can help me understand who or what that is please email me at chunkymonkey1491@yahoo.com thank you

  40. I HAD TO READ THIS BOOK FOR SCHOOL. AND IT WAS THE ONLY BOOK IVE ACTUALLY READ IN MY HIGH SCHOOL CAREER. I ENJOYED IT

  41. This book totally blows. Hate it, hate it, hate it, ending makes no sense, don’t see how this book won a award… totally sucks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *