“Life of Pi” is a fantasy/adventure novel written by the Canadian writer Yann Martel and published in 2001. The novel was an immediate success after it’s release and has since sold more than ten million copies worldwide. It has also won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction (2002) the Best Adult Fiction award (2001, 2002 and 2003) and the South African Boeke Prize (2003) among others and, more recently was adapted into a feature film of the same name that went on to garner eleven nominations and four wins at the 85th Academy Awards.
The book is the story of a young man, Piscine Patel, who goes by the name “Pi” and an author who is determined to write his story which he has been told is astounding. Pi is an imaginative polytheist whose father owns a zoo that he spends much of his time in. When Pi is a young man, his father decides to move his family to Canada from India and bring along some of the animals from his zoo. While making passage across the sea, the ship sinks and Pi manages to make it onto a lifeboat with four other animals and no one else.
The animals, a wounded zebra, an orangutan and a hyena, eventually destroy each other leaving Pi alone on the small boat with only an adult Bengal tiger. Initially, Pi is frightened of the tiger but eventually he trains it to respond to him as he learns to use the ships emergency supplies to take care of them. Pi and the tiger spend 227 days on the ship until eventually, they hit shore on a Mexican beach. The tiger runs off into the jungle while Pi is taken to the hospital by passersby.
During an interview with the marine authorities about the ship, Pi tells them his miraculous story but, when pressed tells another more realistic story of surviving on a boat with four people whom eventually turned to cannibalism. The author implies that it is up to the reader to decide which story is true.
The book begins with an author’s note. The author writes himself into the story and claims to be a novelist who was told an incredible story while living in India. He is now trying to shed the failure of his most recent novel and is currently living in India while attempting to write a book about Portugal. The author talks to a man named Francis who says that he can get him in touch with a man named Pi Patel who, he says, will tell him a story so incredible that it will make him believe in God. The author agrees and meets with Patel in Canada. He then goes on to briefly discussed the experience of hearing Patel’s story and why he decided to write it as a novel. He expresses great love and affection for Patel.
Chapter 1 begins with Pi narrating in the first person and telling the reader that his suffering has left him “sad and gloomy”. However, he does not reveal how he has suffered but goes on to explain that he was a religious and zoological student. He says that he is working and now lives in Canada although he misses his home country of India and also misses someone named Richard Parker.
In the beginning of chapter 2 the narrative switches back to the author’s point of view for a description of Pi. He is a “small, slim man – no more than five foot five. Dark hair, dark eyes. Hair graying at the temples. Can’t be older than forty”. The narrator also says that Pi has a “Pleasing coffee-colored complexion” and an “Expressive face”.
In Chapter 3 the narration switches back to Pi as he remembers his childhood in India. Pi tells the author that he was named after a pool which was quite odd since his parents could not swim. He learned to swim himself from a friend of the family, Francis. The pool he was named after was called the Piscine Molitor in Paris, France. As a child, Pi was teased relentlessly because his name ‘Piscine’ sounded like ‘pissing’. Thereafter he asked to be referred to simply as Pi.
Pi’s father ran a zoo called Pondicherry Zoo and it was from there that Pi developed a love for animals. However, the zoo has since been shut down. Pi also remembers his school days, the teachers he had as a child and his favorite teacher a man named Satish Kumar. Mr. Kumar is an atheist and the first one that Pi ever met. He felt that he had a great spiritual kinship with Mr. Kumar. Pi relates that he does not mind atheists in general but agnostics, who he feels are filled with doubt and indecision are repulsive to him.
Pi begins to talk about animals again and discusses a memory of when his father fed a live goat to a tiger at the zoo in front of him and his brother in order to teach them a lesson about the dangers of being around wild animals. He talks about the territorial nature of wild animals and explains that while animals are violently defensive of their preferred area, they also respect the territory of other animals. Wild animals who are taken care of in a zoo will rarely attempt to break out. On the rare occasion that they do, it is most often because they feel that another animal has invaded their territory. Animals have more to gain from a good relationship with us than we do with them.
The author takes over the narration again and notes all of the religious iconographies in Pi’s house. Pi also keeps a copy of the Bible on his bedside table. Pi tells him that he was born into Hinduism but that one day when he was fourteen he came across a Catholic church and decided to go inside. A man named Father Martin told him the story of the Bible and this convinced Pi to become a Christian. Then a year later, Pi became a Muslim after meeting a baker who reminded him of Mr. Kumar. Pi says that one day a priest, pandit and imam approached him and were embarrassed to discover that Pi didn’t exclusively belong to any of their religions. The men insisted that this was not acceptable and demanded that he choose between their religions.
Pi merely insists that he just wants to love God.
During the nineteen seventies, India becomes very politically uncomfortable for Pi’s father and he decided to move their entire family to Canada. He sold off many of the zoo animals and arranged to bring some of them along on the ship with his family. Pi says that his mother was very nervous about leaving everything she knew behind but that he was very excited.
The author narrates again, telling the reader that he was surprised to find out that Pi was married and meet his wife, Meena and his two children Nikhil and Usha. Pi then describes introducing Mr. Kumar, his teacher with his counterpart the Muslim baker. Pi brought them to the zoo and showed them a zebra. Both were impressed by the odd animal. Pi then discusses the theory of zoomorphism, which is when an animal in captivity begins to see another animal, or even a human, as one of it’s own kind. He insists that the animals know that it is not true, that the animal is not one of them, but they go along with the fiction in order to maintain their security.
At the beginning of part two we’re taken on the boat with Pi’s family to Canada. Pi is sleeping when he hears a loud noise like an explosion. He wakes up and attempts to wake his brother, Ravi so that they can go discover the source of the noise but Ravi does not want to wake up. Pi ascends to the main deck alone and sees that the ship is listing to one side and filling with water. He tries to run back down to his parents cabin but when he returns to the stairwell it is already filled with water. Pi hears animals bellowing from below as three crewman put a life jacket on him and throw him overboard to save him. He falls and lands on a lifeboat forty feet below but a Zebra jumps onto the boat as well and causes it to fall into the water.
The ship sinks. Pi says that it: “Made a sound like a monstrous metallic burp. Things bubbled at the surface and then vanished”. Pi ends up on a lifeboat alone and in the chaos, he spys a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker in the water and shouts at the animal. Richard Parker, in an effort to save himself, jumps onto the small lifeboat with Pi. This frightens Pi, who jumps back into the water so that he will not be in such close proximity to such a dangerous animal.
A shark cuts through the water near Pi and he hoists himself up onto an oar that is hanging off the edge of the ship. The ship sinks and sinks until it completely disappears. No one else but Pi survives. Pi realizes that he must get back onto the lifeboat and climbs back on. Only the zebra is visible and Pi assumes that Richard Parker is hiding under the tarp covering one side of the boat. Pi notices that the zebra has a badly broken leg. Soon a hyena reveals itself on the boat and Pi assumes that this means that the tiger must have jumped off at some point because it would have killed the hyena by now if it hadn’t. Pi is afraid of the hyena as well but decides that he prefers it to the tiger. An orangutan that was named Orange Juice who was once a big draw at his father’s zoo floats up on a different raft. She climbs onto the lifeboat as well and Pi thinks that she in shock.
On the first night in the boat, Pi worries that other rescue boats will not be able to see him but feels confident that word of the ships sinking would have gone out. In the morning he discovers that the hyena has bitten off the zebra’s broken leg and is eating it. The zebra is still alive but struggling. Pi notices that Orange Juice appears to be looking for her two babies in the water and that he has been looking for his family the same way. He realizes that he is in shock. The hyena attacks the zebra and devours it alive. Blood spills into the water and sharks begin to circle the boat. Pi worries that they will break the hull and sink it. However, they do not and soon swim away. Pi must listen to the hyena eating the zebra over the course of the rest of the day. He wonders if Orange Juice will be able to fight off the hyena if it descends on her as well. Soon, the hyena does attack Orange Juice and consumes her as well.Shortly after this the tiger, Richard Parker, crawls out from under the tarp and attacks the hyena, killing it.
Shortly after this the tiger, Richard Parker, crawls out from under the tarp and attacks the hyena, killing it. At this point, Pi tells the author that the tiger’s name, Richard Parker was the result of a clerical error during his sale that accidentally mixed up the tigers name with the name of the man who was selling him. Originally, Richard Parker was named Thirsty because when he was caught he was with his mother at a watering hole. Pi begins to realize that he must find fresh water to drink if he’s going to survive. He finds a box of emergency supplies under the tarp. Also in the locker are 31 packages of rations. Pi also decides that in order to survive on a lifeboat with Richard Parker he will need to put some distance between him and the tiger. He begins to build a raft out of oars, life jackets, and a lifebuoy and attaches it to the boat.
Pi manages to escape onto the raft but realizes that he is now floating on a small raft over an endless ocean with sharks swimming around underneath him. He thinks that he will merely outlive Richard Parker by waiting for him to dehydrate but remembers that tigers can drink seawater with no ill effects. In this way, Richard Parker may outlive him as he has the whole ocean to drink. As Pi contemplates Richard Parker, the tiger makes a rare growl that Pi recognizes as a noise that his kind make when they have no ill intentions. Pi suddenly decides to try and tame Richard Parker. He takes a whistle from one of the life jackets and shouts at the tiger to prove that he is the alpha.
Pi soon gets thirsty and hungry enough to return to the life boat. He finds a survivors manual teaching him how to catch fish and a few solar stills that are capable of turning salt water into fresh water. He hangs a blanket over the raft to protect from the sun. As a lifelong vegetarian, Pi struggles with killing fish to feed himself, but eventually manages to do so and feeds Richard Parker as well. Pi pours some of the water from the solar stills into a bucket for Richard Parker. At the end of the day he realizes that it has now been one week since the ship sunk.Over Pi’s
Over Pi’s narration we are told he spent 227 days at sea with Richard Parker in the life boat. Pi relates that he kept sane only by forgetting the notion of time. He spent his days doing certain activities like writing, praying and resting and chores to maintain the boat and take care of Richard Parker.
Over time, his clothes fell apart and he began to get boils from the constant dampness. He gets to be very adept at fishing and even catches sea turtles. He also spent his time training the tiger using a turtle shell as a shield. One day a large dorado fish leaps onto the boat and Pi manages to grab it. Richard Parker sees the fish and tries to eat it but Pi stares him down until the trained tiger backs away. After this, Pi throws the tiger part of the catch as a reward.
Soon a large storm moves in on the boat and Pi must hide under the tarp with Richard Parker. The storm continues for one night and one day while the ship crests waves that are the size of mountains. When the storm is over, Pi comes out from under the tarp to see that the raft that he has been spending most of his time on to stay away from Richard Parker is gone and the life boat itself has taken some damage. Pi begins to mend the tarp and bail water from the boat and even finds the whistle that he used to train Richard Parker.
Days later, a large shipping tanker appears on the horizon and Pi is sure that he will be saved. However, the tanker can not see the small life boat and nearly runs it over. Pi’s boat manages to float into a mass of trash and Pi catches a clear glass bottle and traps a message in it. He’s health begins to deteriorate. He begins sleeping for most of the day and soon goes blind. In his delirium, he hears a voice with a French accent and begins to think that he is speaking to Richard Parker. However, soon he realizes that the voice actually belongs to another castaway on another boat. The man boards Pi’s boat in order to kill and cannibalize him but, sensing his intentions, Richard Parker attacks and kills the man before he can do so. Pi cries and washes his eyes out with water and soon his vision returns.Eventually, the life boat runs across a small island covered with algae. Richard Parker and Pi stop the boat and nurse themselves back to health by eating the plants on the island and drinking the fresh water.
Eventually, the life boat runs across a small island covered with algae. Richard Parker and Pi stop the boat and nurse themselves back to health by eating the plants on the island and drinking the fresh water. Pi stays on the island for a while but soon begins to notice that it has some flaws. All of the fresh ponds are filled with dead fish and when Pi finds a fruit tree he finds that at the center of every fruit is a human tooth. Pi deliriously assumes that the island is carnivorous and restocks the life boat, waiting for Richard Parker to board before pushing off again.
The boat makes it to shore on a Mexican beach. Pi lays down on the sand and Richard Parker runs off into the jungle. Pi is upset by the loss of the tiger that he has come to see as a comrade and regrets that he didn’t get to say goodbye. Strangers find Pi and bring him to the hospital where they begin to restore his health. Two officials from the Japanese Maritime department travel to Mexico to interview Pi about the sinking of the ship which was from their country. The full transcript of the interview is presented to the reader in part three. Pi tells the men the story of his journey and they find it interesting but hard to believe. The men tells Pi that Richard Parker has not been found around the city and he protests that wild animals are very good at hiding even in developed areas.
The two men tell Pi that they want to know what really happened and Pi makes up a story about being on the lifeboat with his mother, the ships cook and a sailor. He says that the sailor has a broken leg and that the cook eventually turned to cannibalism and killed both the sailor and his mother. Pi eventually had to stop the cook by killing him himself. In this way, all four animals who were originally on in Pi’s first version of the story, the zebra with the broken leg, the hyena, the orangutan and the tiger are represented as humans.
After he finishes this story he asks the men which story they liked better. They begin to ask more questions about the second story but Pi doesn’t know anything about why the ship sunk and cannot help them. Both men agree that the story with the tiger was a better story. Years later, one of the men sends a report to the author and tells him of Pi’s tiger story.
Piscine Molitor Patel – the main character and protagonist of the novel. Piscine (or, Pi) is a young man and the main narrator for most of the book. However, the story that he tells is framed by interludes where Pi, as an old man is telling the story to the author of the book. Because of this narrative device, the reader is left intentionally unsure of whether the story being told is truthful or not.
In his youth, Pi is a shy, imaginative young man who believes that a good story beats a true one. During his interview with the Japanese Maritime officials, Pi first tells them the amazing story of his time on the boat with Richard Parker but then, when pressed tells an alternative version that is ultimately more realistic but less interesting and evocative. It’s up to the officials and, in fact, the reader to decide for themselves which story is the truth.
The novels narrative structure, the habit is has of jumping back and forth in time, shows Pi’s development in a coming-of-age structure. In the beginning, Pi is a bright, eager child who is reliant on his family for care but after the ship sinks, Pi is left alone in the most dramatic way possible with literal wild animals surrounding him. This is an obvious metaphor on the part of the author for becoming an adult. Pi must, and does learn to become self-sufficient and rise to meet the challenges he faces. He even begins to embody a parental-type relationship with Richard Parker as he cares for him and feeds him.
Richard Parker – the 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger that shares a boat with Pi for the bulk of the book. Richard Parker was captured as a young cub with his mother by a watering hole and only knows life in captivity. Richard Parker acts like a normal tiger would be expected to act throughout the course of the novel and in this way differs from similar animal companions in many other novels. This adds an extra element of danger to the book and makes it more realistic.
The reader is asked to believe that a young man and a tiger could exist together on a small life boat and even begin to have somewhat of a symbiotic relationship where they help each other survive. Richard Parker’s life in the captivity have helped him to respond to Pi and adapt easier to the boy training him, but he is still a wild animal and acts as such when killing the hyena and the other castaway for food. After the boat hits the shore in Mexico, Richard Parker runs off into the jungle with no human-like goodbye to Pi. And it is Pi who regrets not being able to say goodbye.
The author – the secondary narrator of the story, a Canadian living in India who travels back to Canada to hear Pi’s story. Not many details are given about the author but he is arguably the most important character in the book as he is the one who hears Pi’s miraculous story of survival and decides to bring it to the reader. The author is present throughout the story as the person to which it is being narrated and also in small asides where he talks about Pi’s current life. By the end of the story, he considers Pi and friend.
Francis Adirubasamy – the elderly man whom the author meets in a coffee house in India. Francis tells the author of Pi and instructs him to meet the man in Canada. Francis tells the author that Pi’s story will make him believe in God and thus begins the religious theme of the book.
He is also a friend of Pi’s family and the source of the man’s name who teaches Pi to swim as a young child.
Yann Martel Biography
Yann Martel was born in Salamanca, Spain on June 25th, 1963. The son of military parents, Martel lived in many different countries around the world as a child. He completed high school while living in Ontario, Canada and then went on to get an undergraduate degree in philosophy at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. After this, Martel worked a series of odd jobs until 1988, when his first short story was published in “The Malahat Review”, a Canadian literary magazine.
The Review posted more of his short stories in the early 1990’s for which he won the Journey Prize (1991) and the Pushcart Prize (1992).
In 1993, a bookstore where Martel had done some readings of his short stories issued a limited edition, handcrafted volume of a collection of his stories.
Martel published his first novel, “Self” in 1996. The novel tells the story of a writer who one day wakes up to find that he has become a woman overnight. The book received little attention although it was on the short list for the Canada First Novel Award.
In 2002, Martel met fellow writer Alice Kuipers and the two began a romantic partnership that continues to this day.
Martel’s second novel, ‘Life of Pi’ was published on September 11th, 2001. Unlike his first novel, this book was well received and very successful. It has since sold more than ten million copies worldwide and received the Man Booker Prize as well as spending a year on the New York Times Bestseller list and the bestseller lists of other newspapers.
Martel has since become an important literary figure and a Visiting Scholar at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. In 2010, Martel put out his third novel, “Beatrice and Virgil”, an allegorical tale about the Holocaust. In 2014, Martel was asked to be a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and he sat on the Board of Governors of the Saskatoon Public Library until 2015.
In early 2016, he published his fourth novel, “The High Mountains of Portugal” and made the New York Times Bestseller list once again. Martel currently lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada with his partner, Alice Kuipers and their four children.