A trailer for a movie caught my eye recently and I decided that I just had to read the book. You see, the movie trailer really does not tell much of anything about the story but it showed me just enough to peak my interest, which is what it is supposed to do. But, me being me, I was not in a hurry to rush out and see the movie. Rather, I was in a hurry to read the book and then decide if the movie was worth seeing. I mean, the commercial basically shows a boy in a boat with a tiger. Nothing else, really. So what is the story about? I had no idea, but I was going to find out. With that in mind, I started in on “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel.
“Life of Pi” starts with Piscine Molitor (Pi) Patel reminiscing on his childhood in Podicherry, India. Pi is the son of a zookeeper and grew up close to the animals. When he was still young, his father taught Pi and his brother a lesson in how dangerous the animals can be with the Tiger as the most dangerous animal. In addition to growing up with a respect for animals and their ways, Pi was also very spiritual and experimented with religion. He spent a great deal of time learning about religion and considered himself to be a member of the Hindu, Islam, and Christian religions all at the same time. This bothered his father, who believed in science and political progress and not religion, but he was allowed to explore his spirituality.
When his father sells the zoo and moves the family to Canada, they travel across the Atlantic Ocean with some of the animals that his father has sold when the boat runs into a storm and capsizes. Pi ends up in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, and a zebra. The hyena kills the orangutan and zebra and Pi is puzzled by its behavior until he finds out that there is a Bengal tiger underneath a tarp in the middle of the boat. Pi makes a raft out of life preservers, rope, and other things found on the lifeboat and ties it to the boat so he can trail behind it when the tiger kills the hyena. He realizes, though that this cannot continue so he starts making trips back to the boat to train the tiger and make it known that he is the alpha male so that the tiger would not attack him.
In all, Pi and the tiger, Richard Parker, survive for 227 days after the sinking of the boat before finally landing in Mexico. When questioned by investigators that are trying to figure out how the boat sank, his story is met with skepticism. Pi argues the accuracy of the story and the matter is dropped. When pressured, Pi provides a second version of his story in which the animals represent people that were on the boat with him. He asks which story they prefer and they prefer the story with the tiger. Pi replies that this will be the story that will always be.
In “Life of Pi,” Martel spins a tale that is always entertaining and swept me right in to the world of the novel. It started slower than I expected with the first third of the book or so being a description of young Pi’s life but then turned into something closer to what I was expecting. The opening of the book, however, set up the story for the bigger themes behind the story such as spirituality and how to survive in the face of tragedy. Through the trials and tribulations of Pi the reader is shown the power of the human spirit as well the resolve that is needed to survive in a harsh world. Pi never really gives up, although he often feels like doing so, and this allows him to survive. The reader is even given a glimpse at what could be a perfect world but even that is marred by violence. Pi knows that this is an imperfect world and that he must survive as the supreme obligation to the world and his family. The book reminded me in several places of “Moby Dick” and some of the other works by Herman Melville (one of my favorite authors) in the spirituality that the author illustrates using nature and the sea. Overall, this was a very good book although the ending kind of left me scratching my head. I understood the point that Martel was trying to make but I thought that it took away from the rest of the story and left me feeling a little flat. So, having read the book largely due to seeing a commercial for the movie, I now think that I will just wait until the movie is out on DVD to watch it. While I enjoyed the book, I’m not sure how well it will transfer to a major motion picture. My recommendation is to read the book and wait a couple months to see the movie.