Life of Pi

Posted by : atcampbell | On : February 15, 2005

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Fifteen people showed up to discuss this mainstream bestseller and 2002 winner of the Man Booker prize. Thirteen had read part of the book and nine had finished it.

Everyone began the book with a different expectation based on the hype given to bestsellers, the picture of a tiger and boy in a boat on the cover, or on the book jacket quote, “a story that will make you believe in God.” Some of us were disappointed in it and some were delighted, but we all found the book to be different from our expectations.

This is the story of a boy’s physical, mental and spiritual survival after being shipwrecked. One of our biggest concerns with the book was whether it could be considered fantasy or not. Pi tells of his survival on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Later we find that he may have imagined the tiger in order to survive the horrors and to make the story more interesting.

The first third of the book covers Pi’s life at his father’s zoo in India and how he practiced three different religions in pursuit of his love of God. For SF readers this segment was slow-paced and too much like an infodump, although some of us who are used to reading mainstream fiction did enjoy it.

Pi’s physical survival techniques sound realistic because they are very similar to the true story of survival documented in Adrift by Steve Callahan, perhaps too similar.

This is a book that can be read on different levels. Some of us read it as simply a tale of survival and wondered why Pi’s religious beliefs didn’t come into play more; others did discover deeper religious meaning. The floating island may represent Eden, for example, since Pi must leave the island when he gains knowledge. Unfortunately, we were not familiar enough with other religions to determine what Martel’s other incidents represented.

This was our best discussion since Moon’s The Speed of Dark, although everyone had liked that book.

— Sandy Kayser