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. Life of Pi is a book I have always meant to read and now having finally read it I am kicking myself for not reading it sooner. His story has so many layers, themes and depth, yet it is so easy to read.. He balances humour, irony, shock and sadness brilliantly.
    My favourite theme is the way he questions religion, Pi chooses to worship three religions. And why not.. Religion is a personal choice, a way to find guidance and peace. Not just blindly follow the rules and conform. This is something I may have to disagree with the author, or rather say don’t tar India with that brush. India is one of the few countries wher you can see religions overlapping. I know many Indians that regularly go to church and temple. Christians wear white then change into red sari’s when they get married. The Dalai Lama sought refuge in India.. There are so many religions living in harmony, Hindu’s, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews, Jain’s, Parsi’s the list goes on. There are public holidays for so many religions. In the book the fact that there are these three very different religions so easily accessible to Pi is a testimont to the true melting pot that India is.

  2. Like most people on this blog I loved the book and most of all I loved ending. The very last paragraph is one of the best punch lines I’ve ever read.
    However I seem to have a somewhat different way of looking at it then most people who read it and I failed to find someone who shares my view.

    Ever since reading it more then a year ago I wondered if the conclusions that so obviously seem to present themselves, to my mind, are where Martell tries to lead us.

    Reading some of the previous comments, I’m fascinated by how our different beliefs will steer us to very different conclusions. So here are mine:

    I used to call my self and agnostic. But now, having read a passage on the issue in “The Salmon Of Doubt” by Douglass Adams (recommended), I realized what I really am:
    Like Adams, I’m a “radical atheist”.

    Religion still fascinate me greatly; the need for it by society and individuals, It’s constructive and destructive forces. Which one is greater? Do they balance each other?
    And most of all what is truth? Does the truth matter?
    That, I think is the main question posed by the book. And the obvious answer, as far as Picine (and maybe Martell as well) is concerned is that the truth does not matter.

    The reader knows (at least towards the end) that for all practical purposes the tiger story is a complete fabrication.
    But, it’s the better story. It’s more beautiful, longer and much less gruesome. What’s more it helps sustain Pi in his ordeal and saves his life.

    To me, the analogy with religion is inescapable. Religion is a good story. It’s gives society a moral code, a focus for communal and family activity, easy answers to extremely complex issues, and hope in time of despair. So who cares about truth?

    Well…, call me petty, but I do.


    Before I answer I must touch on the issue of what is truth or reality is.
    An individual can experience a certain space that can be very real to him/her.
    If you feel God in your heart (in your brain actually, but never mind) as some people say, that is meaningless to me. You must point out to experiences that everyone can relate to for something to be considered a reality.
    Science does not gives us the whole truth and nothing but. It does however give us a decent methodology for defining reality. An objective “due process” if you wish, for determining what can reasonably be accepted as a fact.
    That so called Due Process should be free from the effects of the desired outcome, internal (of oneself) or external (someone who wish to exert influence on us).

    Without it some of us will choose the “better story” and have life full of love and hope and all the answered they want. Others will choose or be steered to not-very-nice stories of hatred, self-righteousness and violence.

    When making important decisions rather then asses the facts at hand some will act based on there adopted story.
    Rather then slow population growth some will choose to ban condoms. Rather then prospering in peace some of us will drive the others, who’s story is different (and they hate) out of their “promised” land.
    Rather then loving life some of us will blow themselves and others up and go to heaven to meet the seventy virgins awaiting them. (lovely story isn’t it)

  3. I Reserved My Man For Rainbow Six War So That If I Ever Die I Will Forever Love The God Of The Strength Of Sprial Factor And If Anything Ever Happens To This Hunka Crap Book I Would Read It Dissatisfied Dumb Institute Canada Korea.

  4. We were required to read this book in my high school english class in reading groups. There were four people in my group, and we all thought this book was terrible. Yes, we all understood the meaning of it and such (we’re senior English Honors under an ivy league professor, we learn a lot), but we thought it was terrible. The ending was horrible and does not lead to any conclusions. It kind of ruins the ending, and it ruins the magic you believe of surviving with a tiger. Yes, you know that the boy made it up and that’s what helped him to survive. The book was gruesome in details, had unneccessary plot lines, and did not make sense sometimes. I’m sorry to all that liked it, but the two groups that read it in my school and class, did not like it at all.

  5. oh , and to add from my previous comment, I don’t care about how he got his name Piscine Molitor Patel, that was the most boring thing I have ever read in my life. The first 93 pages made me sleep.

  6. the first, like, 3 chapters are pretty boring, but after that, i’m told that it’s pretty good.

  7. To those who have said that hated the book, that there was no plot line and no meaning.

    To those who judge themselves to be better than the rest because they are (honours students) and the such.

    You’ve missed the point.

    The ending didn’t “spoil” the “magic”, it was the magic. Martel was giving us as readers the opportunity to make our own choices and to make our own leaps of faith. If you think the story with the tiger is the truth and the aesthetic content appeals, then so be it. Again, if you’re the kind of person who can only deal with reality, that conversations with tigers is out of your league, that’s fine as well.

    But maybe, rather than saying “i’m right, this is what he meant” you should just accept that we all have our opinions, just like we have our own religions and our own stories.

    Pi Patel is a character of love and acceptance, and maybe that’s what you should have taken from the book, if nothing else.

    Just remember that not one of us can say “i have the ONLY answer”

    Where do you think war and hatred orginates – if not in those words…

  8. Oh, and to LC’s comment on the 11th of June, firstly you sound as though you’re regurgitating the words of your peers. Try re-reading the book from your own perspective.

    It is very hard to say the book is gruesome… try “a child called it” or even the newspaper. Do some research on the decimillation of the Rwandan people or read on what Ganghis Khan did to the people he didn’t like.

    Each “gruesome” moment in this text is just an animal (or human) merely acting in self defence or for survival.

    In all your honours student greatness – you should have understood that Pi’s name is an integral section of the story.

    And finally, it is a fictitious novel and there is no evidence suggesting either way that the version with the tiger or the cannabilistic story are truth.

    Does the truth matter?

  9. Wow! Okay, I finished this book last night and have been DYING to talk to someone else who read it. All during work today as I vacuumed I thought and wrote in my head. Anyway, I needed more opinions for my “essay” in my mind so I did a search online. This was all great. Nick’s (Dec 04) comment opened up the real meaning to me and tied it all together in a beautiful package. All the thoughts that were running through my head all day can now be summed up in a couple of sentences. The reason that this story makes you believe in God is that we can see life. It’s awful. The more I hear about political and world events the sicker I become about it. BUT, when I look at it through my religious eyes and deep seeded spiritual experiences I can understand and accept God’s purpose and plan. The story about Richard Parker is the story through religious eyes, so to speak. The dry, yeastless, factual story including Pi’s mother is the awful sickening truth. But the point is that it’s the R.P. story we WANT to believe. Just as it’s God’s reality that we want to believe. When I realize I want to see the good in life, I look for it, and I see God’s hand everywhere. And I know longer just want to believe, or just believe, but have a living growing testimony that he in fact exists and loves us, I know he does.
    Okay, so maybe that’s more than a few sentences, but it’s shorter than my essay would have been AND there’s a deffinite conclusion, which my essay was lacking. I guess, contray to the moral of the story, I would have been left in doubt and indecision! To come to this conclusion so soon is surprising to me, since I just finished last night. But I am very thankful. Peace out.

  10. I had to read this book for school and its not a book that most 15 yr. olds would read but if your into those books then its a good book. I liked some of it but it just draged on to long for the pacific ocean part and it was very hard to concintrate on it. Dont let my remarks keep you from reading this book…just read it and be your own judge.
    Kepp on lovin…

  11. I have read this book and it is a very interestin novel. Of course, i would not walk right into a book store and happen to fall on this book, so basically , i was required to read it. It really challenges your imagination but i have to say, those of you out there that have weak stomaches, i would think twice. Great job Yann!

  12. I really love this book. So wonder and beautifull story, but in some chapter there are some disgusting story. I skipped it.
    Would you like to tell me, is the Life of Pi is true story or not?

  13. I had to read it for school. It’s a good book but my English teacher made me feel Pi’s suffering while reading it and writing notes and journals.

  14. Anonymous Said: March 27th, 2004 at 3:09 pm–

    “A person needs to believe in what cannot be proven or seen, because that is what brings light to us when we are in complete darkness, the unknown.”
    And for those who believe in God [or want to] we HAVE to believe in the animal story. It is our light. The story, animals or not, is full of suffering and death. By believing in the tiger Richard Parker, we are showing our faith that a God wouldn’t leave us on a lifeboat with none but a crazy frenchman.

    The algae island is a challenge to our faith and belief. Yet, despite the lack of scientific evidence which could support such a geographical oddity, the reader KNOWS the island is real. To not believe in the island would shatter the whole animal story. So, though we can not prove or see it, we stretch our minds to accept it in order to preserve our faith in God and the ‘better story.’

    I’m not an outwardly religious person, but this book made me stop and pull out my Bible, find an online Koran, and dust off my notes from Hinduism lectures. I love the idea of full religious tolerance and wish more people would just let each other live with their own beliefs.

    I love this book. I think that sums it up.

  15. I definately liked this book. I think that Pi was alone the whole time and as a coping mechanism he made up Richard Parker, Orange Juice and the Zebra. The island was a sign that he was safe and then Richard Parker leaves, symbolistically meaning he didn’t need him anymore. Land means that he is safe and no longer needs support.

    Anyone have any theories on such?

  16. The story is so good, surely Pi has to be real. The animals, the events, all must be real. Then I read that Life of Pi is a novel. I am heartbroken. It’s just a story conjured up by a writer? No, I don’t believe its only a story. I feel sad, I feel angry, I feel naive. And then I thought to myself what if the writer told me it was all true, that everything on the life raft had really happened, would I believe him? I don’t know, but I want to believe.

  17. I enjoyed the book. Can anyone explain the quote “Love is hard to believe, ask and lover…..”, as well as the meaning behind the blind frenchman?

  18. I loved the book and can’t wait for the movie. I hope it might clear up the end a bit more though

  19. i’m wondering: the story of richard parker and the rest of the animals is pi’s unique manner of coping with trauma and the realization of who (what) he is and what humanity is. but is the beginning, the story of the zoo and the many religions, part of the “better story” as well? i mean, is the story set up as (1)reality, (2)better story, (3)reality or simply (1)better story, (2)reality? it’s safe to say that the story of the animals would not be the same without the religious introduction, but does that introduction start off the better story or only the novel?

    i’m probably not making much sense, so i’ll put it a different way. do you think the part of the novel before the shipwreck is truth or is it just another part of pi’s “coping mechanism” as someone above put it?

  20. I tpp loved the book and found the insight into atheism and agnosticism fascinating.

    I still want to have a better understanding about he symbolism of the carnivorous island. What do the plants, the tree, the pools, and the meerkats represent?

  21. i loved this book and i can see that so did many other people.

    i now have to write an essay on why everybody likes this book so much and i was hoping i could get some feedback cos i’m not very good at putting my feelings into words and i cant think of much to write.

    i just need to know things like why did you enjoy? what made it one of your favourite books? why would you recommend it ? you know those kind of things

    kk well anything will be useful thanx

  22. What captures my attention most in the Life of Pi story is how the people reacted when Pi shared his adventures in the sea with “Richard Parker”, the 400 pound tiger from his father’s zoo. It shows how human beings fail to recognize the truth and facts because their minds are often clouded with their “ideal truth.” It also shows that we often seek to defy nature by questioning its validity, its reasons; in return, what we see are the stories created based on imagination…

  23. Humans are all romantics, they choose to believe the animal story becuase it shows off the remarkable nature of life than mankind’s ulginess and horror.

    Tsimtsum sounds oddly to me as a Japanese word. (I studied Japanese)
    Not sure if it is a romanised error or what.

    Yann fabricate the fiction into a true story.
    Who wouldn’t want to believe such life’s triumphants, the miracles, the gratifying wonders of a friendship between man-eater and man does exist.
    It gives life so much wonder and hope.

    When Pi washed his boat at the algae island and threw off the carcasses, I wonder why he didn’t kept some to verify his amazing story should he be rescued later on. perhaps when one is in survival mode he doesn’t concern such things?

    The two company men disbelieved his story. Why hadn’t they run a forensic test. Surely there would be the tiger’s paw prints, feces, urine, saliva, hair, signs of damages caused by animal’s struggle (hyena’s, tiger vs shark fight, etc).
    DNA profiling may or may not be employable yet in 1978 but forensic study could tell. Why isn’t this mentioned in their investigation report?

    I had an Indian friend from Pondicherry, he might tell me if there was a zoo there before. If you find this report on the internet, let me know.

    I picked up this book cos it says it would make me believe in God. After finishing the book, it doesn’t convince me so.
    Pi’s uncle said so because he thinked that God’s protection helped Pi survived through these ordeals. I think a companion is neccessary whether it be imaginative (God?) or physical. It helps keep you on, hang in there, when it might have been better to die than suffer such desoluteness, and unforetell future.

  24. This has probably become my all-time favorite novel. I read this for my English class, and when my dad told me he wanted to talk to me about it when I was done told me right away that it was a great book. He never wants to talk about books. I just finished it tonight, and I cannot believe almost everyone else had the same reaction I did. I literally pulled up my internet browser not 5 minutes after I finished it, trying to see what everyone else thinks about the ending. I personally believe in the Richard Parker story.

    I loved how at the onset Martel describes the differences between the agnostics and the believers. Then, he gives the reader at the end the choice of becoming an agnostic, or becoming the believer. Remarkably done.

  25. i have to read it for my geography class, and i don’t understand what the moral of the story is! u can call me stupid (i didn’t read it all the way through), but it is so BORING!!!!!!!

  26. In Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, the great devotion of love and faith is tremendous and incredible. Not only does he believe in three religions tahat are completely seperate from each other in so many ways but Piscine Molitor Patel practices them with the rigor and devotion that most of us can only wish that we had.. For anyone in need of a faithful pick-me-up, the book to read is Life of Pi and the character to follow is none other than the scrawny fifteen year old boy who is a devout Hindu, Caatholic, and Muslim.

  27. I have to read this for my English class. I have to say, that this is the most stupidest and boring-est (haha a word?) that I have ever read. There is no clear concept and its stupid how he brings those animals aboard a ship. I don’t get the concept and Pi keeps switching on his topics and its very confusing. I have to use Spark Notes for this book, because its so hard for me to become intrested, because the book has no excitement (to me). You may think otherwise on my opionion, but thats what I think.

  28. Does anyone understand Thanh’s comment (the one where every word is capitalized)? It was oddly beautiful. Anyway, I found Pi the most annoying character in all literature.

  29. I loved the book. Besides the first part of it, the part that was solely about Pi’s background and his origins, but it wasn’t until the second part of the book that started to make me hook on. I’m very surprised that some of you had to read this book for a higher up grade english class. I had to read it over the summer for an advanced english class, and I’m only in 9th grade! I found it very confusing, and all of my classmates said the same. But they hated it, and I loved it/ Great job on it.

  30. I had to read this for english class, that’s 1 month of my life i’m never going to get back. Enough said.

  31. I really liked the religious waffling that Pi had experienced. Its not as much waffling as it is a compilation of what he saw as the best of the traits in each

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