Yann Martel’s Life of Pi is a first-hand account of young boy’s childhood and his fascination for zoology and religion. At the open of the book we learn of Pi’s upbringing on his father’s zoo in Pondicherry, India. It is here that his understanding of animals is learnt under the firm guidance of his father. Despite his father’s influence on zoology, his parents do not know of Pi’s other passion for religion, that is until a chance meeting in a park with three different religious leaders. They soon find out that Pi is a practising Hindu, Muslim and Christian due to a culmination of culture, chance and curiosity. It is these two seemingly polar opposites of religion and zoology that combine together to save Pi’s life.
As Pi reaches his mid teenage years, his father makes the decision to leave his zoo and make for pastures new in Canada. It is here that the novel reaches the main part of Pi’s story. The Patel family make their way over to Canada with their animals on board whom they intend to sell to various different zoos across North America. However, for some unknown reason the ships sinks and Pi is the only one to make an escape on a lifeboat. What follows is a gripping tale about survival, incredible grief, faith and a 400 pound Bengal tiger. Before this story of survival commences the author states, ‘this story does have a happy ending’. Indeed, it does, but you have to ride an absolute rollercoaster of suffering, malnutrition and heartache to get there.
Fortunately, it is well worth the ride and the novel left me incredibly satisfied. Pi’s character exudes a pleasant curiosity for religion and a desire to find out his place in the universe. Characters like this run the risk of being somewhat neurotic as they drone on about their life (a little like me!), but fortunately this is not the case. The steady balance of religion, zoology and Pi’s survival skills make for a pleasant read. In particular, Pi’s initial vegetarianism turning to the primitive, animalistic flesh eating of raw fish and turtles was an interesting, albeit brutal, part of the tale that encapsulates just how far most people will go to survive.
If I was forced to find a fault with any part of this tale it would be the views Pi puts forward about animals in captivity, I’m of the persuasion that animals in captivity is wrong unless they would not survive in the wild otherwise. However, I may be wrong and this is a minute detail in an otherwise brilliant work of fiction. This is a well-crafted story of incredible spirit, desire and a will to live that you will struggle to find in other works of fiction. Excite yourself with breathtakingly tense scenes and ponder your understanding of faith. I would recommend this novel to anyone looking for a thought-provoking read, in particular young adults – a book like this can have a profound influence on someone on the cusp of adulthood. Feel free to comment or criticise!