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The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

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A boy. A tiger. And the vast Pacific Ocean. This is a novel of such rare and wondrous storytelling that it may, as one of the characters claims, make you believe in God. Can a reader reasonably ask for anything more?

So reads the dust jacket of the novel The Life of Pi by Yann Martel . My answer: yes.

To be more accurate I am not sure the book lives up to this haughty claim. And if it does make you believe in God, what kind of God is it and why do you believe? In other words The Life of Pi left me with a lot more questions than answers. Let’s start at the beginning, however, back at the “a boy, a tiger, and the pacific ocean part;” let’s focus on the wonderful storytelling.

At the center of this intriguing novel is Pi (short for Piscine, a famous swimming pool in Paris) Patel, an engaging Indian boy growing up in and around his family’s zoo in Pondicherry the former capital of French India. Growing up as he does Pi knows a great deal about animals and their captivity. His other passion is religion. A Hindu by birth, Pi soon adds Christian and Moslem to the list much to his parents chagrin.

Due to the unrest of 1970’s India, his family decides to sell the zoo animals and move to Canada to start a new life. The Japanese steam ship transporting the Patels and the animals to North America sinks off the coast of the Philippines, however, with only Pi, an Orangutan, a hyena, and a Bengali tiger escaping on a twenty-six foot lifeboat. Nature takes its coarse and soon it is just Pi and the tiger alone at sea. It from this point on that the story the storytelling really begins.

At this the author succeeds. Martel does a good job of setting the stage for Pi’s adventure, outlining his childhood in India and his connection to the zoo. This knowledge of animals and their environmental and psychological requirements is necessary to the plausibility of the adventure of being stranded 227 days at sea with a tiger and live to tell the tale. Pi is a charming and intelligent boy; at bottom a good person. He loves his family and his community. He studies hard at school and enjoys learning. He has a passionate belief in God sees His presence in the world around him. The survival story is interesting because we want to see how this charming and intelligent boy can survive the tragic and life threatening situation. The tiger in the boat is the intellectual and narrative twist. It is what pulls the story along. We know that he makes it because the story begins with Pi retelling the story to the author. We want to know how he makes it and we want to enjoy the story as we go along.

As I said, at this the author largely succeeds. One could nitpick about the some things. The way the author’s shifting back and forth between the present day Pi, and his interactions with the narrator, and the survival story serves little purpose and is soon dropped. How Pi’s voice seems a little too ageless. One can grant Pi a great deal of knowledge about animals given his background but his thoughts and language quite often break the bounds of a 16 year-old boy. There are here and there these type of flaws, but overall the story really is wondrous.

It is in turns captivating, surreal, frightening, disgusting, and comforting. Martel puts us on that boat and forces us to think about what we might feel. As the force of the story carries you along, you can’t help but thinking: what would I do, would I be able to survive? This is the engine of the story and the author has obviously done his homework. His descriptions of a host of incredible and fascinating activities seem real and wholly plausible. The discussions of animal behavior are interesting and based in reality but mixed in with this is a strong dose of imagination and wonder. It is amazing to think that someone could write over 200 pages retelling the story of being lost at sea and not lose your attention. It is to Martel’s great credit that the story rarely if ever drags. If you like interesting and creative storytelling, the Life of Pi is a fine specimen of the art. It brings alive a world most of us have never imagined.

The question remains: is the Life of Pi more than just a story? This is where I believe the novel breaks down. One of the main reasons I wanted to read the book was because of my interest in its religious and spiritual dimension. Here was a book that was supposed to make you believe in God (or so the cover claims). Here was a book that took faith seriously, didn’t hold to that hard materialist worldview. After reading it, however, I think Martel substitutes a hard materialist viewpoint for a mystical post-modern view of the role of religion.

There were some early quotes in the novel that peaked my interest and stoked my hopes for a story with a deeper meaning. Pi is from the start a pious boy (and I mean that without the modern negative connotation).
After interacting with an atheist teacher, he admits:

I’ll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get struck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.

It is obvious from this passage and others like it that the author and the character see religious belief and faith as an integral part of life; as toucing something crucial to our humanity. As Pi describes his religious development and his unique decision to adopt Hinduism, AND Christianity, AND Islam this passion and insight comes through. Martel seems to understand that these historic faiths are not just words in a book or myths handed down from ancient times, but that they are deeply intertwined with who people are in these societies. Pi experiences and embraces the unique and attractive aspects of each faith. He brings a nearly blank slate, a uniquely open mind and soul to these religions.

But again what Martel, and Pi, seems interested in are the beauty, wisdom, and power in these great stories. The rituals and rites of these faiths touch Pi as he experiences them but they also serve to explain the world, to help him make sense of the universe. Pi says of Hinduism: “With its notions in mind I see my place in the universe.” But tellingly he flows that up with: “But we should not cling! A plague upon fundamentalists and literalists!” What Martel seems to be saying is that these stories give meaning to life because we give meaning to the stories. That if we try to hard to make them concrete they will lose their usefulness. At no point does Pi discuss truth. He doesn’t approach any of his adopted faiths with reason or in a search for truth. He experiences these religions with his senses and with his emotions; it is a mystical and existential connection.

The end of the story further reinforces this view. When Pi’s horrific journey finally ends, along the coast of Mexico, he is eventually contacted by representatives of the Maritime Department in the Japanese Ministry of Transportation. They are seeking answers to the shipwreck that claimed the lives of his parents and all the animals not too mention the ship’s crew. In answer to their questions, Pi relates the story that the author has spent the last 200 pages recounting. His visitors don’t believe the story. He tries to explain how the story is plausible. They insist he tell them what really happened. Pi explodes:

If you stumble at mere believability, what are you living for? Isn’t love hard to believe? . . . Don’t you bully me with your politeness. Love is hard to believe ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your hard problem with hard to believe?”

The men demure and insist they are only being reasonable; that they want to know what really happened. Pi begins to relent but in doing so reveals his thought process. He tells the men “Doesn’t the telling of something always become a story?” He continues:

Isn’t telling something – using words, English or Japanese – already something of an invention? Isn’t looking upon this world already something of an invention? . . . The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”

The men are only more confused by this bit of philosophizing. They don’t want to discuss the meaning of life and the role of language they simply want to understand what happened. They want a story that “does not contradict reality.” Eventually they break Pi down. He knows what they want. He explains:

I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.

Yes, that is what they want.

***WARNING MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, DON’T CONTINUE IF YOU WANT TO READ THE BOOK WITHOUT KNOWING THE ENDING***

After taking a moment to compose himself, Pi then relates this dry factuality; this other story. Instead of miraculous story with an orangutan, a hyena, and a tiger Pi relates a horrifying story of ugly selfishness and despair. In this story four people survive, Pi, his mother, the ships cook and a sailor. The cook is a madman. He kills the sailor, who had a badly broken leg, to use as bait for fish. The cook torments the survivors in every way, eating all of the food and abusing everyone verbally and physically. After catching the cook in an act of cannibalism, Pi’s mom explodes and slaps the cook. Soon the cook kills her too. In the end Pi kills the cook and then “Solitude begins. I turned to God. I survived.”

The men try and digest this story and seek clues to why the ship sank. Pi can’t help them there; he has no idea why the ship sank. Finally, they feel they have the information they need and prepare to leave. Before they leave Pi has one question:

So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which story is the better story, the story with the animals or the story without animals?

Both men choose the story with the animals. Pi responds: “Thank you. And so it goes with God.”

This ending weakened the power of the book for me. I find it hard to read this story any other way then to assume that the horrific story of murder and cannibalism is the actual story of what physically happened. What the author seems to be saying is that God is a better story. That religion is a tool to see life in a new light. That all things being equal isn’t it better to believe in the mystery and beauty of a wonderful story? Like a great deal of post-modernist thinking there is kernel of truth in this view. People of faith know that a cold materialist view of life fails to explain what it means to be human. It fails to explain art and beauty, love and wisdom, a meaning beyond ourselves. Faith surely encompasses tradition and experiences that can’t be tied down to cold hard facts. But what is missing is truth. Nowhere in the story does the issue of truth come up. Pi does not embrace religion because it is true or a warped human approximation of eternal truth. The contrast between the two stories is not between what is true and what isn’t between what captures the essence of what happened and what doesn’t. No, for Pi the difference is what each story offers. One offers pain and suffering and despair while the other at least offers some beauty, some hope.

This is why Pi is able to practice three incompatible religions simultaneously because they are not about truth but about “stories.” They are about inventing our lives in the process of telling stories. In this worldview truth is what we make of it. Pi goes beyond an intellectual humility that realizes that it could be wrong and therefore keeps from encroaching on God’s authority. Rather, in Pi’s world there seems no ultimate truth; no standard to appeal to regardless of position or background. I for one, fail to see the point of religious belief it is not a valid truth claim; if it doesn’t speak to a reality (a deeper, even non-physical reality but truth nonetheless). Perhaps, I am reading too much into all of this but for me the spiritual moral of the story muddied the work rather than giving it weight.

With all that said, The Life of Pi is a fascinating and engaging story that will entertain you for hours and leave you thinking about it for days. It is a unique and highly creative story with a elegant mixture of realism, even science, and fantasy and mystery. If you are looking for something different and unique – something more than just your typical novel – The Life of Pi would be an excellent choice. If you are looking for spiritual insight and and/or an argument for faith in the form of a novel, however, I am afraid you will likely be disappointed.
________________
For more on this work see:
Orrin Judd’s review and his interview with the author
Here are two reviews I found helpful:
James Wood in the London Review of Books
Francie Lin in the Los Angles Times.

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  • Adam B

    Don’t read any reviews of this book. Don’t read the dust jacket.

    The cynical have no chance with this book.Read as though you are a child. Love it and it will awe you. Cherish it and it will give you hope.

  • Truth Teller

    Holtsberry’s overt desire to see truth spelled out misses the point entirely. Truth lies between the stories not in one or the other.

    Both stories make up the whole truth, illustrating life in an age of reason. One story is about hope and spirituality — at once unbelievable, provocative, and inspiring — while the other is about brutish realism and rationality. Without the paradox it would mean less.

    Richard Parker is alive and well.

  • http://www.waking-vision.com Michelle

    The books has been released in German, too and I read some reviews. Yet noone till now emphazised the religious aspects as much. Still, I’m curious to read the novel.

  • guy

    as adam b suggests above, this is not a book for grown-ups.

  • S.E.Toner

    I agree with Holtsberry’s review. The story was thrilling as long as it was a story of survival on a boat with a tiger. There was nothing in the ending that would have made me “believe in God” if I were an atheist, and nothing that would have strengthened my belief if I were already a believer. Any strengthening of my beliefs would have occurred as Pi went on his own spiritual quest and found ways to weave all those religious beliefs together in one life. I was deeply disappointed when Pi told his “practical” story to the investigators. I agree that the story with the tiger is much more winsome than the story with the cannabalistic cook, but I disagree that one is more interesting than the other. The story with the cook could have been just as interesting, if told in equal detail. For proof, I point to the enduring fascination we have with the Donner Pass history.

    Note to Holtsberry: You need to pay a little attention to spelling.

    Nature takes its coarse — should be “course.”

    There were some early quotes in the novel that peaked my interest — should be “piqued.”

    The men demure — should be “demur.”

    s.e.t. 5/28/03

  • simon

    Life of Pi is truly a great read!!Read the book and take in the wonders that Martel has to offer us. Life of Pi shows how short life can be and evokes a an unfound spirit inside of the reader.

  • John John

    Whoo, you all suck. Except for that guy directly above me, he’s alright. The rest of you- moronic smug jerks. Go home, fatties.

  • John John

    Sorry, I forgot to add this:
    “BUUH IM S.E. TONER EAAH GUHH YOU NEED TO PAY A LITTLE ATTENTION TO SPELLING BLOOO I’M S.E. TONER AND I’LL TELL YOU EXACTLY WHAT YOU SPELT WRONG TO SHOW EVERYONE THAT I’M A SUPERIOR BLOGGER VREOO I’M S.E TONER”

  • S.E. Toner

    By the way, I have been sniggering at myself since my 5/28 posting: I misspelled “cannibal.” Eep! s.e.t. 7/27

  • jean-francois

    Don’t miss out on “The Life of Pi’! It’s the most original, intelligent and offbeat work of fiction I’ve read in years!

    While the novel begins by purporting to ‘make you believe in God,’ I think its real function is to rethink what God really means. Contrary to Holstberry’s reading, Pi’s experience of religion goes beyond the ‘mystical’ and ‘existential’ [besides, these are very charged terms in the history of ideas…], because Pi embraces and practices different faiths as equally valid interpretations of divine existence. His openness to seemingly incompatible creeds suggests that any ultimate ‘truth’ about god must transcend arbitrary theological parameters. The final chapter further problematizes the role of religious truth by staging a confrontation between divine reasoning and contemporary rationality. Is any negociation possible between such opposed versions of ‘truth’? In their shift from skepticism to acceptance of Pi’s first story, the Japanese investigators have taken the classic “leap of faith” not only with regard to religious doubt, but also with respect to the power of stories, the magic of narrative.

    Pi’s name, which above reviewers have unfortunately ignored, yields some of the novel’s most provocative reflections on spirituality. Pi’s birth name is “Piscine”, which designates a state-of-the-art Olympic swimming pool that made Father dream: “its water was so clean… you could have made your morning coffee with it”. The Piscine Molitor thus provides an ironic counterimage to the nightmarish “cesspool” through which Pi would later float as a castaway. To avoid being teased in secondary school, Pi recreates his identity by shortening his birth name, and afterwards claims that, under his new nickname, “that Greek letter that looks like a shack with a corrugated tin roof, in that elusive irrational number with which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge”. As the plot unfolds, this analogy could be pursued to compare the corrugated tin-roofed shack to the tiny lifeboat on which Pi and the tiger found refuge. Pi finally reaches land as though he were reborn into a new life as a radically estranged orphan, bereft of his family and his tiger. Like the Piscine Molitor, the ocean represents indeed an “Olympian” sized body of water which, in many cultural traditions, signifies the mother as well as a spiritually purifying force. In this sense, Pi’s emergence from the ordeal resembles not just a rebirth but also a baptism that brings him closer to the divine. The beach where he lands is “like the cheek of God, and somewhere two eyes were glittering with pleasure and a mouth was smiling at having me there”.

    Here, Pi’s generic designation of God contrasts, perhaps revealingly, with his earlier, multiple summoning of “Jesus, Vishnu, Mohammed, etc”. Is his survival so wonderful, such source of wonder, that the latter, religion-specific denominations make no sense? For doesn’t God itself, like the irrational number “pi”, represent the infinite, if not infinite wonder, in most all world religions?

  • Irene

    James Woods’ review, by far the most stringent and intelligent commentary on Life of Pi, must be considered in any serious look at this book. That is not to say one can’t enjoy the open, even insubstantial being, that is Pi; the world would be a better place if we had more Pi-like people! Martel made a valiant attempt to approach big, if not the biggest questions, and I applaud him for his attempt.

  • Thomas N. Holland

    I highly recommend this novel.What ever your beliefs or views,if you like a great story, read the Life of Pi. It is a haunting and thought provoking book.I read it in mid-July,and I still find my thoughts going back to this book on a regular basis.I almost did not buy this novel because of the hype on it about making “you believe in God”. I didn’t want to read about any metaphysical nonsense.But I had remember reading a good review on it so I bought it.I read this book while on a long distance flight,having enough time to read the main story, but I only glanced through the coda.So I came away with the book’s first story but missed the second one.I was very impressed with the book,with how well writen, structured, and imagitive it was…the story of a boy and a tiger on a lifeboat and their mutual surivial is a hell of a story..but there were a few things in the story that puzzled me,including the name of the doomed Japanese ship,The Tsimtsum.( It didn’t ‘feel’ like Japanese to me..it isn’t..it is ‘must mist’ spelled backwards.)So I went back to the book and reread it again, and read the coda as well.The coda of course flips the orginal story on its head,or if you will, back on its feet. At first I was stunned, dismayed and angry at the author for what he did to the story, but then I realized that Martel had taken a good read and suddenly turned it into a great or near great novel.Pi becomes much more of an amazing personality…deeper in deeds,strengths and in faults.As for the complaint about the ending that some may have,one must remember that the real ending of the book is not at the end of the book,but at the end first part of the book.There,the ‘author’ tells us about Pi’s loving wife and happy children and announces that “This story has a happy ending”.One of the many theme of this book is of how a lonely and somewhat outcast of a boy survives a horrible experience,adjusts to it and goes into the mainstream of life.

    There are currently rumors that Steven Speilberg will be the producer of the movie from this book, and if so,I have no doubt that he will ignore the ending of the book and just tell the story of the boy and the tiger.I gather from the reviews above that many of the readers of this book wished that the author had done the same.But the book is much richer for the addition of the ‘real’ story.
    As for Holtsberry attack on the ‘Post Modern’ views of Truth,I am always puzzled by those who think that Truth must be smeared with a heavy coat of metaphysics.We live, we die,the earth will one day be scorched to embers by the sun.There is much fuss about the ‘relativism’ of the modern world,but religion is chocked full of moral relativism.The god of Abraham and Moses is a self-confessed mass murder(the Flood ,Sodom and Gomorrah,Onan,allowing Satan to murder Job’s children and there servants in order to prove a point…and I also vaguely remember something about a group of innocent children being murdered by God because of the sins of their parents). So if God is the definition of the good, of truth,yet is a mass murderer( the best defense I have heard is that those he murdered were sinners and as the creator of all, he has the right to murder those whom displease Him,but the arguement then is that with that line of reasoning He has the right to lie to us as well,so that the Bible may be just a joke,and no more the Truth than the Koran or the Book of Mormon,or what ever),then the truth from God is even more bleak and confusing than what we get from the Post Modernists.
    I think Yann Martel is using The Life of Pi as a way to trying to understand religion in the context of today’s world.After all,who is more guilty of the Holocost,our grandparents and their leaders whom heard rumors of it and did nothing,or God,whom one would expect had a ringside seat to the actually event?If He can strike Onan dead for spilling his seed upon the ground, why did He just watch Hitler,who spilled much worst?In fact I read an interview where Martel said that his next novel will be about a monkey and an ass traviling through WWII Europe,although I have no indication that Martel will expound on the ‘silence of God’.Interesting enough,Martel said in this interview that it was in the writing of Pi that he became a believer in God.

    But read the book. It is a great story and a deep novel novel. I suspect that generations of English grad students will be writing their dissertations on it. It has very deep subjects going on in it, as well as fun stuff like the name of the ship,the number of days he is at sea is,227,which I think is a prime number.And as of yet no one has asked Martel where he got the name”Richard Parker”.Martel was both in the Middle East and in South America,and his first novel is about gender confusion. So is Richard Parker the tiger, named after Richard Parker the scholar and Mid Eastern diplomat,or Richard Parker the sex resarcher who did a study on Brazilian homosexuals and transvitites?Or is it Richard Parker,author of computer books,or Richard Parker,the author of children books including one wrote in the early ’60’s called “Lion at Large”?
    Not as important to the book as the question as to who Pi really is,but fun never the less.So read the book,the writing is superb,the book is one that is easily gotten ‘lost into’,and Iam sure, will be hell of a lot better than the movie.

  • cookie monster

    It is a fascinating story that relate us to animal in such a way that we would never expect.

    The author really puts me in the boat myself and how i must admit that i miss Richard Parker unexpectedly. If I were Pi, I would mourn for a while because my eventually-become-so-dear companion is nowhere off, never heard of..without a proper one last goodbye. This is quite a toucy ending.

    The great thing about it is the impact the Richard Parker has on me (and not to mention the meerkats)what with a fearsome beast like a bengal tiger could slowly thaw your feelings. Nevertheless, it contains a motivation. How helpless and hopeless a situation is, you must never give up to try and put the effort. It is confusing here though, the author describe it having an orange coat as illustrated on the book cover, but didn’t it mention bengal tiger? And a Bengal is suppose to be black and white.

    But the hype of ” believing in God ” does not make up what it is. I too, almost feeling not to read it just because it is just another normal and common hype. But the summary at the back of the cover really helps a lot. If the novel ever brought to silver screen, I bet many will be dissappointed as it will not describe as greatly as deeply as in the book. Once u r on the ride of Life Of Pi, u never want to stop the journey for a single minute.
    This is a book not to be missed. Definitely!!!!!!

  • http://www.ourcountries.tk NEVIE

    I really liked this book, i guess it does make you believe in God, but it would make me more convinced if this story was actually true.It was still awsome even without being true,but its too bad carniverous islands dont exist.I thought that part of the novel was so interesting.What i found hard to believe was that the whole authors note and the tape recording thing was actually part of the novel.

  • http://www.ourcountries.tk NEVIE

    I mean part of the story, not real duh

  • jack

    yeah it’s a moderately decent book

  • http://www.waking-vision.com Michelle

    After I finally read it I can say: I truly hated it. One of the most boring reads ever.

    And now you can flame me…

  • vaness

    it makes you think

  • tara

    Im procrastinated to read it because i think it is boreing. I even have to present something about it in about 3 days for an english project at school. I’m not even finished it yet!!!

  • Irwin

    I enjoyed the book and would recommend it – very creative and provocative. I also think that Holtsberry’s commentary is dead on. The book provides some great insight into what’s wrong with modernism and what’s right with postmodernism and how these philosophies affect our view of the universe. But sadly, as is true of most contemporary writing, it fails to display any knowledge of the problems of the postmodern tendency to depart from critical thinking when it comes to the subject of truth and the nature of God.

  • shon

    im feeling realy stupid-but i fail 2 understand- which story is correct? what does he meen whaen he says-“and so
    it goes with god”…please help!!

  • ck

    Ok…bear with me here…just finished this facinating novel and like many of you, the end threw me for a bit. However, I think the author might be making an analogy to the writings (teachings, doctrine, etc) of all religions. What makes something “real” is one’s ability to “believe” it is real. Let’s face it, the stories in the Holy Bible, etc. are unbelievable if you had just heard them told straightforward without any formal backing from the religious institutes that uphold these writings. Some guy who was crucified came back to life…he brought another guy to life earlier…sounds like “a better story” but put it in the context of faith and you have millions of Christians worldwide believing this story without question. Same holds true for all religions…faith makes it true to the one that believes. The Japanese businessmen could not believe the first story because they did not have faith…they needed a more reasonable explanation…Just as agnostics and atheists might look for a “more reasonable explanation” of the events laid out by religious leaders. It is important to note which story was told first..it was only when that story didn’t satisfy that Pi offered a second, more horrific scenerio. Remember what is said in Chapt 22, the agnostic, when faced with the true light of God, will still try to explain away the very proof in front of him. Remember, too, that the truth of Pi’s story had no baring on the information that the Japanese men sought..how the ship sank. Why did it matter to them so much what happened after the ship had already sunk? Why couldn’t they just accept his story at face value…it really had no baring on them…why force him to retell just because they could not accept the first as true. Why didn’t they just leave, shaking their head saying that he must have gone mad. Instead they almost insisted on a different version, and then congratulated themselves when the stories had similar elements. We do the same with stories of God..we try to explain it away with science or analysis, and then pat ourselves on the back when we can come up with a reasonable explanation that “fits” with the known facts. This is a story of faith…believing in the tiger (the richer, more subtle, more infinitely sublime story)is a show of faith. Allowing yourself to take the easier (and more psychoanalytical)approach shows a lack of faith…Gee, Pi must have blocked out all of those “bad” memories with this fantastic story…he could use some counciling!
    But the story has a happy ending (beginning?) This boy grows up to be happy and well adjusted with his own family…does this mean his story is true? Each reader takes away his own meaning. That is the beauty of this book. Hope you liked my analysis!

  • Krittika

    I finished reading “The Life Of Pi” today and i must say that I felt rather terrible to have ended it. It felt like the entire journey had come to an end and I had to get back to my normal life. I lived with Pi at the zoo, in the vast Pacific, Pi’s thoughts, emotions and faith. The only aspect that did not quite convince me was Pi’s maturity with respect to his age. At times he was too profound and so he sounded rather fake. Another thing is that how can the boy lead such a normal life after such an unusual journey? He comes across as a regular human being – Should he be like that? Is that the beauty of it? It puzzles me. But on the whole, the idea of faith and the will to survive makes Pi an extraordinary human being – I wish there was someone like him in the world, a person full of faith, optimism and serenity ( if i may call it that ! ). Of course, Richard Parker is my hero! Pi truly survives due to him…
    To conclude., all I can say is that the story with the animals is what made it so beautiful and enchanting. ( the story with the humans is a huge contrast). Everybody takes something meaningful from this story, and that is pretty amazing. Its open ended as far far as the thoughts go, but its a story which grips you right till the last page.
    A request : if anyone has Yann Martel’s address, please send it to me.I will be extremely grateful. Thank you.

  • Adeel

    I need 5 good quatations from this book! that explains the book or the importance of the quatation. if u guys can help i really appereciate it! thanx!

  • Georgios Tsatsos

    Has ever anyone though of the tiger and Pi as two faces of the same person?
    After the experience of the life in the ocean the child turned itself from a
    vegetarian to a carnivorous and from a teenager to an adult. In his mind he
    became a tiger and a teenager simultaneously. This was his self-defence
    mechanism that prevented him from insanity. And as soon as he arrived in
    Mexico there was no need for the tiger side of his character to be there so
    it left. The teenager was transformed as well and evolved to maturity.

    As for the island couldn’t it be the ocean itself? He is mentioning that he
    could leave there for ever since his basic needs were meet. Ok maybe this
    part is a bit exaggerated…

    There is a talk about religion taking place as well.
    Patel mentioned that you can be atheist but not agnostic for too long. An
    agnostic and a person that believes in all kind of religions at the same time
    is not very far away. In fact is the opposite face of the same thing,
    because he does not accept as something to be true or not but considers all
    possibilities. Patel asks us to pick a story, otherwise if the reader thinks
    that both stories could be possible then he will not be able to enjoy either
    at their full extent. This reader will be the equivalent of an agnostic. But
    Patel has leaved through both stories (and 3 religions) without rejecting
    one. In his mind all different stories are equally enjoyable. The difference
    between an agnostic and Patel is that although both consider all different
    possibilities, Patel doesn’t pick up the weak points of each story or
    religion but believes and enjoys each one for whatever it has to offer.

  • truce

    question: the japanese interrogators, when comparing the similarities of the two survival tales, wonder what the meerkats represented, if Pi’s original story wasn’t true; any ideas on this?

    My guess: masses, reacting to the world around them, which is their sole source of nourishment and life … without looking deeper into it, to see that it, too, is cause of their demise.

  • truce

    oh yeah, thanx to all of you for giving me a better understanding of this novel.

  • truce

    Okay, last post:

    I feel that instead of trying to determine which story is true, consider that neither story is true, or at least, neither is any more true than the other.

    Looking at this novel as not a story, but an attempt to convey belief in God (as Martel states it is), realize that both of Pi’s tales are (referencing chapters 21 and 22) takes on the same subject, one glorious and one bane; in the end, does it matter which is the true story? There will be those who doubt the glorious, regardless of how factual Pi knows his tale is.

    Martel’s brilliance in this novel is conveying the first story as though it is the actual tale, with no hint of doubt; then, at the end, he pulls the rug out and introduces very believable doubt, even though we, like Pi, KNOW his first story is true … or do we? We’re debating it now. To have every reason to believe in front of you, but to find doubt.

    Believe what you know. Know what you believe. Don’t allow doubt of others to tear away your faith.

    “And so it goes with God.”

  • Jacqueline

    Hi all,
    I was wondering if anybody else was thinking of this hypothesis.
    The true story was the latter. Though, this story is so terrible, especially because of what Pi had to do; eat a human being. Therefore, Pi saved himself by becoming schizofrenic. He is Richard Parker and sees his other half as a dangerous tiger, but he depends on him too (he even tells him he loves him and would not know what to do without him).
    One remark of Pi earlier in the book made me think of this.
    Has anyone noticed the following in the bit before the sea trip started? When the interviewer has a conversation with the mature Pi, Pi points at a picture with merely school boys on it and says:” this is Richard Parker”. I feel he is most likely pointing at a picture of himself. I noticed it because I got confused later on when RP appeared to be a tiger. When he finally reaches land RP disappears and is never seen again…..

  • http://huh gian

    interesting, ideas, contrast, motivations to thought, life, culture. what is truth?… enjoy

  • truthful_turkey

    I have just read ‘Life of Pi’ and I can honestly say that it is an amazing book and would recommend it to anyone interested in reading something more than just a ‘black and white’ story.

    As many others who have written on this page, I am an exponent of the idea that the second, more brutal story, is true. In one of the present day chapters in the book, Mr Pi Patel tells the author that he cannot remember is mother’s face. This is perhaps because the last images of his mother in his memory had been nightmarish. If so, the entire first story and his lack of memory of his mothers face is a ploy to block from his mind what really happened to him and his mother.

    However, I might also add that, if I ever met Pi Patel pesonally, I would rather have him tell me the first story to the second. A story of hope is a much better a memory than one of brutality.

  • thecynic

    To Kevin Holtsberry: Thank you for a spot-on analysis that perfectly crystalized what i was unwilling to admit, and therefore refused to believe.
    Truth Teller wrote: “Holtsberry’s overt desire to see truth spelled out misses the point entirely. Truth lies between the stories not in one or the other.”
    Sorry, Buddy. You missed the boat BIG-time on this one! Not even Martel tried to claim such as this: that the truth lies “between the stories and not in either.” He is stating that the truth is arguably unimportant if it doesn’t help you survive. This is the point of the novel, and the one that made some of us angry because (a) we WANTED to believe the first story, not the second, and (b) It’s depressing to try to apply this principle to our own reality, i.e. how sad are our lives or our world that we have to “make up” God just to get by?

    It is [unfortunately for us non-relativists] clear that Martel is instructing us that story #2 is true. (Sadly, those that don’t want to accept it– and some actually criticized K.H. because he says what is painful for us to accept– are in the same place I was before I read his strip-away-your-personal-desires-and-look-at-the-brutal-truth style review. Ironic how the point of the novel is to look at the brighter side of life, and yet, at the end, it forces you to realize what you thought WAS reality was merely a fantastically “painted-on” version of it, because it was too horrible to comprehend!
    Martel still has a valid point: there are good reasons for creating, telling, and believing the “better story”– but for me, it’s twice as depressing to realize that’s what the author seems to hint you should resort to– *even when it comes to God*– as if God is as much a figment of your imagination/desires as the story of the tiger and Pi was to a young boy… as if *God is not actually real*! And this is why nearly every reader says the same thing: “Gee, I didn’t find this story really made me believe in God.”
    It stands to reason: the author only creates the argument that it is helpful to BELIEVE in God and therefore you SHOULD… regardless of the fact that the notion of God is as much of a fabrication as the tiger and boy story. Hardly a positive message– well, unless you began reading this book as an atheist… and even then, quite possibly depressing. Holtsberry’s understanding further explains Martel’s earlier point that he has “no patience” for agnostics because they’re not USING a belief in God to get through life. For Pi, it has nothing whatever to do with truth; it has to do with choosing the blue pill over the red pill (fantasy over truth, a la Matrix). Martel argues that there are powerful reasons for developing and sticking to “the better story,” including the existence of God, because of how useful it is for going on in the face of adversity.
    The real argument here might be that life sucks no matter whether you’re on a raft with death at your door or not…
    Let’s look at it this way. We all know that in The Matrix, it was critical that Neo choose the red pill if he ever hoped to change the state of the universe and humankind. Continuing to hide his head in the sand and believe the fantasy played out before him would have been a colossal mistake, so choosing the blue pill would have dire consequences: the continued slavery of all humankind. But we all know of cases– being imprisoned, being stranded on an island– being in a raft, alone at sea– where there are most definitely benefits to creating an alternative mental reality in order to survive. The blue pill can be the most potent weapon we can have in some sets of circumstances. For Pi, it most definitely was. However, the end of the story shows us that Pi believes it is always preferable, in keeping with his quote “And so it is with God.” In the end, he finally admits he believes in God merely because it offers “the better story.” Can anyone honestly find this an uplifting philosophy? Aak.
    I lived in Japan for three years. They definitely choose the “Ignorance is bliss” mentality over the “Information is power” one more popular in the West. This was disorienting to me for a while… Now I recognize that it can work well– but only if you have a well-developed mindset that allows you to hold two thoughts in your mind at once: reality, the best you can recognize it (with all the imperfections that might entail!) and a softer, hazier fantasy-style vision that allows you to play along with others so that life can be sweeter. It’s like keeping your cynical side tied up for emergencies and letting the optimist run rampant– just so that there are more reasons to live– more excuses to be happy. Again, not the most positive way to look at the world if it’s really THAT bad to require such “phoniness,” but it is absolutely capable of making you more likeable– to yourself AND to others– and of making you more life infinitely more pleasant/less likely to stimulate depression/etc.
    Let me provide one example, and then I promise to end my dissertation here. I’m an animal rescuers. This means I have ample opportunity to find cats and dogs that have been dumped, stranded, beaten, used for target practice, starved, ignored, etc. I’ve also seen laziness by pound personnel that caused needless putting to death of friendly, healthy, adoptable animals. All this leads some rescuers to hate humans because of the cruelty they have witnessed, to become depressed about the current state of events (not enough pet fixing and therefore, ever more animals left to starve, be killed, or live out a painful, lonely existence without shelter, love, or steady food), to give up hope (5 million animals are killed just by U.S. pounds annually), and to generally become miserable people to be around. New animal rescuers practically have to be “shuttled away” from crustier “old” rescuers, so they won t see the bitterness that exists, and can develop strength in their decision to rescue animals rather than think “I don’t want to be like these people, or work with people like this!”
    To understand this, I should add that rescuing animals is a tough gig– you go to rough places, you try to tame animals that don’t understand mercy, you spend money, time, and tremendous amounts of energy helping animals become beautiful and healthy again, fix them, and then hunt for stable, safe homes. And then you get picked on by others who think you must be naive to go to such extents for mere animals– “You can’t save them ALL! Why do you bother?!” And etc.
    My solution is that I focus on the animals I DID save, and try not to think of all the ones I haven’t. In this way, I have found a happy medium between the knowledge that tonight, more animals out there are cold, hungry, abused, and sometimes, even about to die, and the knowledge that focusing on that reality will decrease my power to help those that I can. The difference between this and Pi’s story is that I haven’t made the jump to claiming or believing that I have saved all the animals, just because it’s a better story… If someone asks me, I will tell them the truth.
    But I will keep putting the faces of the ones I saved before me just to keep myself going.
    On a raft, by myself, as Pi was, I would take the blue pill too. I would create a fantasy if I had the power to. But I’m not sure it’s the best way to live a life, and not sure it’s a reason to “believe” in God.
    Thanks, Kevin H. You said what I didn’t want to admit to myself, but now that I have, I can be okay with that. This story is that amazing. I so wanted it to be true. Clearly, it carries a lot of power, no matter how you slice it. (No pun intended.)

  • thecynic

    p.s. Sorry! I’m sure there were plenty of typos in there, and I could have made the points more succinctly. Please excuse me. This is the last thing I should be doing here at 1 a.m.! Better get back to accounting, ukk. :)

  • Lethal

    John John u rock!!! LOL!!!! Couldn’t have put it better myself

  • Goober

    Jacqueline: The writer says the photo is
    MOSTLY of schoolchildren, so R.P. could still be in it……still a good theory though.

  • Chloe

    The peasants of this blog have no idea what true love really is-that is, the undying love which exists between Yann Martel and myself. Challenge me if you dare.

  • Jorge

    uh, I was wondering, does anyne know where I can find summaries on all the chapters of life of pi?.. I need this for a school thing.. if you do please E-mail me at Falcon560@aol.com it would be apreciated.
    THANX

  • Gagan

    Life of Pi is the best book I’ve ever read…maybe besides the Rohinton Mistry books…I have to admit that i found it quite boring at first..what with the whole three toed sloths n stuff…but later on it got so interesting that I couldn’t put it down! its a MUST read

  • Rob

    In this story, Pi explains how zookeepers control wild animals and tame them by using fear and intimidation, and by providing them with a safe environment that meets their basic needs and supplants their true nature (to roam free, explore, hunt, etc.) with a false one (roam around a fake home and wait for food to be dispensed). Pi uses these same techniques to control Richard Parker in the lifeboat.

    What Martel is really telling us is that most of us are animals in the world’s religious zoo. The zookeepers are the leaders of the worlds religions. They draw dogmatic parameters that they want us to stay within, and then use fear, guilt, intimidation, etc. to keep us from exploring a broader spirituality. Instead of rising above dogma and meeting God on a more spiritual level (where “truth” can’t be pinned down so easily) we file to church each week, swallow endless repitition of the same old stories and go about our lives asking no more of our religion. And just like animals in a zoo, our true purpose of seeking God has been supplanted by an artificial one (sitting like zombies listening to blowhards blather on about why our particular “story” is the only true one).

  • Alexandra

    I decided to read this book because of a 2-sentence long description of it on a summer-reading list for school.

    Boy, am I glad I selected it! A truly fascinating, rivoting read!
    Without a doubt, one of the best books I have ever read – I couldn’t put it down, and ended up reading it cover to cover in a day.

    The ending bugged me a lot, and I’ve been thinking about it for days, but for those who have yet to read it, I suggest just picking one of the two endings and believing it fully.
    I find that this makes it a lot easier to digest. (I picked the original story.)

  • Cassandra

    I have read this book and I would like to know how does Pi compare Hinduism, Christianity, and Muslim to the real world or how people see religion?
    Explain them separately using religious belief and textual evidence.

  • confused

    i read this book over the summer and it left me very confused. i didn’t like the book, it was too slow and boring. but it did get me thinking. i wish Martel had given a better explanation on which story i should believe. i think i believe that the animals were from Pi’s mind and that there were truly four human survivors from the sunken ship. it seems harsh…and like the japenese interogators i think the animal story is unbelievable.

  • http://Karolina Karolina

    I just love this book ! and I bough it just by chance, waiting to take a plane on airport , it was sold with another book as a gift so I thought , ok, nice at least I have many to read , and… after just few pages I follow in love. But I don´t like the end, I would like to discuss with Yann Martel. do somebody know´s his e-mail ?

  • Chris

    In reference to the symbolism of the name Pi:the ratio of a circle’s circumference divided by its diameter, ending in an irrational number.

    In the boat Pi divides himself, enabling his survival. A story about multiple realities. Irrational things can be quite logical.

  • Chris

    From Authors note: That’s what fiction is about, isn’t it, the selective transformation of reality.

    To me, the key is transformation.

  • Dale

    Maybe neither of the two stories were correct and Pi was on his own on the boat, with a lot of time on his hands and a wonderful imagination he wrote the first story in his diary as a way of passing time and in his mind the tiger became like an imaginary friend. when confronted by the Japanese investigators he has no trouble with putting together another story on the spot, gruesome though it was.

    did anyone else consider this or am I just a complete arse?

  • Steve

    I just finished this book last night and I can’t wait for my wife to read it so I have someone to discuss it with. I agree with Kevin’s review that the principle failure of the novel is that it doesn’t look for truth. However, this is only important if you expect it to “make you believe in God.” If only Martel had left this unfortunate sentence out of his book, it would be a compelling argument as to why we should believe in God – or how cynicism is no reason not to believe in God.

    The story this most reminds me of is “The Little Prince” by Antoine St. Exupery. Both stories speak about the differences in perception between a skeptic and believer. Both revolve around fantastic journeys that seem to defy reality. Finally, in the closing pages, the author offers an alternative story that would satisfy the skeptic – but then reminds the reader of the brilliance of believing.

  • Jesse

    what was martel’s purpose of using an urang utan as a character in the novel?

  • http://cant_be_perfec56 Melissa

    Has anyone realized that during the time when Pi is going crazy and talking to Richard Parker… richard parker said he killed to people… A man and a women.. does that mean he killed his mom and the chief?

  • Daniella

    Why do we have to choose an ending? Why is the common goal in life to find answers to every question? Never once does Martel indicate that either story is more or less factual, however Pi states: “Which story is the better story, the story with the animals or the story without animals?” Both men choose the story with the animals. Pi responds: “Thank you. And so it goes with God.”
    If God knows the truth, than who are we to make assumptions as to something which we really have no insight into?
    Oh, and as for the whole practising of “three incompatible religions” theory; step back and take a look at every message Martel expressed about each religion. Are they not fundamentally similar? So, now similarity is incompatible? An open mind can see what the closed mind can only guess at. “To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

  • Carla

    Well, having questions and searching for God is good. I highly recommend it as a life style. However, when you find all the answers no one will believe you, but many will follow you after you are dead and rise again. Be blessed in your journey.

  • http://www.artfv.com/animation/anime/ latina

    wow…i loved this book, i had to read it for school and i just wanted to keep on reading. I believe in the second story too, even though after reading yall’s comments, now im very confused…but they really got me thinking..this is probably the best book i’ve read in years.

  • Steve

    Well, it’s my experience that religions only appear the same on the surface, the more you study, the more you realise just how far apart they really are. The key is to be precise in defining terms, religions often use the same terms but the meaning for each religion is entirely different e.g. –

    Both Buddhism and Christianity agree that meditation is an important spiritual discipline.

    Sounds similar right??? Wrong…

    Meditation in the Christian tradition means thinking about God’s Word (in the Bible) and his laws and ways.

    In the Buddhist religion, meditation means EMPTYING your mind.

    The two religions’ ideas on meditation are actually opposites.

  • http://dudeyt gggg

    this book sucks. so boriong and long

  • Samantha Tennant

    I really loved this book, and I agree with many of the points brought up here. However, while many of the points have allowed people to come to the conclusion that the second story is true, they have allowed me to do the opposite. Almost every point that I have read has made me think, and I have come to the conclusion that the first story is true, and that we may all be overalalyzing the story. But maybe I’m wrong. Either way, as the author suggests, I will choose “the better story”.

  • http://PiscinePatel Piscine

    turns out it’s all lies. there were no animals on the boat, only a bunch of murderers and cannibals. ha ha sorry to spoil the ending!

  • Sam

    fucking shitty ass mother fucking bull shit gay ass fucking shitty book! Never read it again!, and if you havent DONT!

  • Stephanie

    I was disappointed to read so many cynical views of the book! And although I believe it was incorrect to label the book as one that would “Make You Believe in God”, I felt it at least made you think about God. To me, Life of Pi opened my eyes to the importance it is to believe and have faith, no matter what you are believing in. That is why Pi attacks agnostics at the beginning of the novel, since they are full of doubt, yet athiests believing in nothing at all is in fact believing in something.
    I suppose I choose neither story as true, and only consider the stories for what they represent. Theories that Pi created Richard Parker to avoid insanity definately intruiged me! However, this is like choosing the story without animals to me, it’s not pretty and I’m not sure if it’s what Martel intended.
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, however when I had to read for analysis rather than pleasure, I realized it did not hold up as well as I would have liked it too. Part I of the book was slightly mirrored in Part II of the book, but not enough as I would have liked. Anyways, just read Life of Pi!

  • Samantha

    What do you think the purpose of the zebra is in the book? Why do you think Yann Martel killed the Zebra off and what do you think the Zebras brought into the book in it’s short time?

  • Ji

    What’s with the meerkats? I figured it was yet another thrilling example of human dichotomy. He’s really into that. Or some cannibal island?

    Man, when I read the part about the tooth-fruit, a shiver just went up my spine.

    Naturally, the second story is ‘true’. I mean, who really wants to believe that humans are capable of such evil? But we are. It would be so much easier to accept the animal story because we can excuse animals more easily of such various ‘misdeeds’ as brute savagery and even cannibalism. Hell, I went through the book placidly enough, simply loving R.P. and his simple animal ways, but my heart beat so rapidly in those last few pages with the narrative of the ‘true’ story, simply because the violence went from animal to human. Stunning.

    I applaud Holtsberry and thecynic for such terrific insight into the book. The idea that God is simply the better story may seem too much of a generalisation, but isn’t that why so many of us believe in God? Heaven is a much better story than any of the evil on earth, I’d say.

    Religious institutions may seem different, Steve, but I think faith in God comes from something other than ritualistic institution. Even Martel addresses that, that the priest, even as a priest, was glaring at him, going between him and God. The Brahmin shooed him away. He was chased from a mosque. He seems to address the small-mindedness and busibodiness of so many humans because they refuse to leave their marked ‘territory’, so to speak. Fervent love for God goes so much farther, you know?

    Anyway, it was an thrilling book. I simply could not put it down. I am critical of Martel’s drawn out style, however. It dampened my interest in many of the chapters and led me to skimming, which isn’t too helpful when reading such an engrossing story.

    The utter parallelism in his symbolism is delightful, though. That the orangutan was the herbivoric, gentle mother of two strapping boys. You know, in restrospect, you see all these things. Those meerkats, though. They really bother me.

  • jade123

    oh i just loved the book “Life of Pi”.

    i thought it was boring at first, maybe it’s because i didn’t understand the stuff about religions, especially Hinduism. (i never learned anything about Hinuism before…)
    but when i got the main idea of the religions, and i continued to read through it, i just found the book hilarious.

    haha i was confused by the two stories at first. i was like hmmmmmm which one is the real story?! but then yeah, it’s all up to me.

    by the way, i prefer the first story as well.

  • jade123

    sorry, a spelling mistake: Hinduism

  • jade123

    oh i forgot to mention this:

    well, how about the French man he met when he was blind.
    and was there a carnivorous island? is the island which has meerkats and trees on it real?

  • DJ

    Hi all,
    I agree with Ji, the second story is the obvious true one. The writer tries to tell the reader that the cannibalistic nature of man is something we don’t want to hear or believe. That is why he compresses the true story at the end of the book into a few pages, as if to say: “There, is that better now, do you feel better about the truth?” It is a story without a God.

    I also agree that the whole animal story is an allegory for faith, since the build-up in the book was all about the faiths.

    That the animal story is a parallel for heaven, I think is nonsense. Pi had no fun time out there even if you believe the animal story. So I think it is a story of a reality of pain and suffering that is disquised as an acceptable tale. It also kept Pi going. This signifies how people view God. It doesn’t change reality, but a God in ones mind changes your own experience of reality. It also gives hope.

    The Island…now that I don’t understand. And also the Meerkat bones. I don’t know if there is any significance in this. To me something along the lines of an island must have happened, or at least the idea of algea that drifted on the ocean. The reason I say this, is because Pi’s eyesight miraculously returned, this must have something to do with vegetation or fresh water. But the Meerkats!?!?

    I come from South Africa and it is quite interesing why he picked them as players in the tale. Maybe Pi found them so interesting when was young, that it became a figment of his imagination.

    Lastly, I would have liked the writer to eloborate at the end on the journey Pi took. Kilometers traveled, the route. The tanker’s crossing with his paths. Maybe a picture.

    Anyway, anybody on the Meerkats?

  • The Lorax

    I just finished reading Life of Pi. I loved the story, but the way Martel wrote it did not appeal to me. I’m sure others can relate to me when I say that I was distraught when Pi started telling the second story. I think there is an overall “want” to believe the impossible and the most extreme.
    I still have some questions though…If anyone can clear this up, that would be most helpful!

    So…I still don’t get this carnivorous island! What’s up with the teeth in the fruit! I did not understand that at all.
    Martel’s purpose is also foggy. What is his purpose? Is it truly all religious or is there something else?
    Apparently there’s a theme to this story too. I can’t even begin to find one! Religion? Faith?

    Those are my questions. I was also thinking that the zebra, orangutan, and the hyena getting eaten on the lifeboat could have represented Pi’s three religions deteriorating and him no longer believing in them (since he barely regarded his religions while on the lifeboat and came to Mexico a changed man), is that way off?
    In addition, I was also thinking that since Pi fabricated one story, couldn’t he have made up the second one too? What if (and I know I’m taking this farther then it should go) Pi let the animals loose and helped the ship sink. Or, more likely, what if he killed his own family on the lifeboat? I think it’s a possibility.
    I would appreciate hearing some responses. Thanks all!

  • Jumpshot

    I enjoyed this book immensly. However, I thought it best to clear something up. It seems like many of the comments here are assuming that one of the two stories must be true, when actually neither story is true. Hence the definition of a Novel: “a fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes.” In other words, Martel made the entire thing up from his imagination. Enjoy the book for what it is… a wonderfully written novel.

  • amrita

    wow, i just finished reading the book, and the ending definately left me chilly. the latter, or “true” version really caught me off guard and even though it makes the novel richer, i wish it wasnt part of the book. i think the latter story was the true one, but pi invents the former to explain/justify the events. the part about the canibalistic island, for me, was the most eeire part of the book, especially the part about the teeth..!!

  • Vern Halen

    I don’t know if all this religious stuff was the point of the novel. I suppose it;s there, but I think it’s more about the nature of reality & how much self construction goes into it. And it’s a cool twist ending.

  • http://www.bookrags.com/Life_of_Pi Henry Billups

    To the guy asking for chapter summaries on Life of Pi.

  • a c

    the book was lame

  • Teddy

    Pies the tiger and he killed the hyena(the chef),however the story says that he killed two people a man and a women. Now the mans taken care of so who was the women. Was it his mom or somebody else?

  • Teddy

    Sorry about the spelling of “pi” in the last comment

  • Sirrah

    I read somewhere that Martel wanted to use the meerkat island more as a literary device than just a metaphor, as his final blow to the typical, expected form of fictional writing. And that by trying to find out what the island represents, we forget a large part of his intention: “to not sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality”.

    It simply makes the story more interesting.

  • sean

    yeah my only problem with the novel was that Pi beliefs were never explained or justified, ther is nothing wrong with them, but why is that mind set a goal for us.

  • I RULE

    I dont know why everybody thinks this book is so good i thought it was horrible and now i have to right some dumb essay on the importance of Pi’s name and how it affects the book when i dont even understand the stupid book

  • AlexB

    This book was great. I understood both views, but
    I would have to go with the one with Richard. It was more in detail (obviously), and also, Before he told it (being the second one), he said something like “If you can’t understand what you didn’t see, then I’ll tell you one that you may be able to believe. One that you can envision. Here’s one more believable…” Also, how do you explain the giving of food, water, and basically total salvation to R.P. when he didn’t exist and he was only himself (that was sure a mouthful). The whistle could be for self awareness, but I can’t get much further then that. I do, however think that he made up some of it. Meercat island, for example. He could have found some algae and some dead fish, but carnivorous trees?! I could go on forever. The thing is, although we have our opinions that we opt to convince is an objective thing, but this never happened, so it is absolutely your total subjective opinion. I didn’t really think that this made me think of God, but makes me think about even when you may not neccesarily have the will to live, by instinct, you try to survive, perhaps bringing us to be less of a dominant species as we are (and who gets free food and medical attention and who pays?). especiaally at the end when it turns out that he is perhaps R.P., you see how we are really animals too. This book really makes you think.

  • amy arden

    heyy can ne 1 help me explore the significance of pi’s name to the overall message of the novel?
    and add sum quotes along the way im doing and essay and it’ll rele help

    thanxx…mwah!!

  • Sam

    A story that will make you believe in God…

    Whether or not it does this is debateable but Martel’s protagonist makes you believe in Richard Parker and the hope that he represents and Pi’s survival echo of a power greater than Pi or yeastless factuality. It has been said that God does not need to exist in order to save us and whether he does or not, Pi’s survival hinges on the hope intrinsic to religion; whether fact, fiction or somewhere in between, even as an idea, God is one powerful enough to carry a boy over the ocean. Martel’s greatest gift is perhaps not a story that will MAKE you believe in God, but one that at its climax can make you believe that an idea can save those who keep faith and believe in it.

  • Linus

    I am surprised that the majority seems to give credence to Pi’s second version as being the factual account.

    I’m not so sure. The only thing that leads me to truly believe that the animals were purely metaphorical was Pi’s insistence of how you could turn Tokyo upside down with the result of dozen’s of wild animals falling out.

    This story has definitely left me with a lot to think about.

  • ferdinand

    it was a delicious read

  • Kris

    This story has nothing to do with making the reader believe in God. Yes, it is stated that the story will in fact, do just that, but we forget. That is also part of the story.

  • me

    this book sucked,
    i had to read it for a summer project and i dont even remember half of what i read.
    boringggg!

  • yeeee.

    number 36 needs a life.

  • John the Libertarian

    okay, I sought out this blog because I’m deep into the book, but have a problem no one seems to have addressed yet: does anyone else feel that Martel has pegged agnostics wrongly? The agnostics I know of believe wholeheartedly in God, but with a humility that God is too immense for humans to describe, and especially for the major religions to try and monopolize. Martel seems to think agnostics would explain away “the white light” as a chemical imbalance, and posits them much more like atheists. Margaret Atwood, a declared agnostic, would likely have a conniption if her belief were painted this way.

  • Grant

    I read this article, everything except the spoiler. then read some blogs on this page. I have never read this book in my life, but how many times have I read this book?

  • maegan

    this book suckes i had to read it for english class i dont get it

  • lifeofpiisfkngay

    the book was fkn gay.

  • archanom

    I just finished this book and read the above comments. I have to believe that the second story is the true story. Pi is Richard Parker. His mother is the orang-utang (think of the loving comments Pi has for this orang-utang mother of two). The sailor is the zebra. The chef is the hyena (ugly and a born killer). Pi had to create a story for himself to take him away from the reality of the situation and give him hope during his ordeal. The made-up story is what helped him survive.

    As for the island:
    When Pi is blind and meets a french cook who is blind, this is the french chef who is actually on the boat with him (the hyena). Richard Parker (Pi) kills the chef. Pi’s eye sight comes back because he was able to feast on the chef and gain nutrients. I believe that his feasting on the chef (cannibalism) represents the island where he gains strength and then finds the cannibal tree with teeth.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The one fault I have with it is that it hints that facts do not matter, what matters is a good story. For an atheist, that doesn’t cut it. Here’s a good story: the creator of the universe is a flying spaghetti monster. I could come up with other, more fanciful and endearing stories. Should the best story be the one believed or the story which is factual? In The Life of Pi, the author seems to hint that the true story is not important. I strongly disagree. Truth and facts are something we can all agree on. Made up stories create uncertainty and disagreement. This book did not make me believe in God, but it is a good story.

  • archanom

    I’d like to add a couple more insights to my entry above.

    A previous blogger brought up the conversation on page 87 (of the paper back). The conversation takes place between the author and Pi as a grown man. Pi is showing the author four photographs from his childhood in India:

    -On the same page there’s another group shot, mostly of schoolchildren. He taps the photo.
    “That’s Richard Parker,” he says.
    I’m amazed. I look closely, trying to extract personality from appearance. Unfortunately, it black and white and a little out of focus. A photo taken in better days, casually. Richard Parker is looking away. He doesn’t even realize his picture is being taken.-

    This is all told before the author knows Richard Parker is a tiger. The author is describing the photo of Richard Parker as a human and not someone looking at the photo of a tiger. The photo of Richard Parker is most likely a photo of Pi.

    The other point I’d like to make is that it was thought the tiger was not on the life boat in the beginning. Richard Parker does not appear to Pi until after Orange Juice (Pi’s mother) is killed. Pi’s alter ego – a 450 bengel tiger – emerges from beneath him. His tiger, his fight, was there all the time. Most of the story is the struggle for Pi to tame the tiger – tame the animal inside him.

  • http://ilikepi fred

    i thought the story was pretty good but it only gets better to the second part of the story.

  • Sarah

    My memory’s a bit shaky as I read this book about a year ago but I still wanted to comment from this perspective since no one else seemed to have done so. Being agnostic, I find all of this attack a little over critical. Grnated, religion is a major part of the book and belive me I loved the book, but I believe that as an agnostic my mind is more open to others beliefs and I’m not tied down to, and hindered by, a strict religion. I see God when I see him and feel like he’s not there at all a lot as well. But, by no means do I believe that this is akin to someone choosing immobility as a means of transportation. It’s more like picking a vanilla cupcake over chocolate or strawberry and that’s to say it doesn’t matter much. i believe that’s the point of this book, just to tell people to be happy with what they believe or don’t and just have fun and accept things.

  • Frure

    archanom … I rather like your take on Richard Parker being Pi, and this also gives me an interpretation of the island that doesn’t leave me cold.

  • Joe

    archanom, you’re a genius and a Godsend.
    Its funny how both religious people and atheists dislike Martel’s dismissal of objective truth in favour of a good, a “better”, story. His is a truly intellectually lazy standpoint.

  • love

    omg i hated your book it was the most dumbest book ever i had to read it for english blahhhhh this book

  • tonyo

    any connection between Pi and the number of days (227) that he was at sea? Pi = 22/7

  • Bob Schneider

    it was alirght I expected more from Yann MArtel but; I guess i kinda enjoyed it

  • Billy Dessen

    sup yo this book sucked sooooooo bad!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  • Chelsie D

    why did you pick the Pacific Ocean?

  • unknown

    it’s very very very srtange in the beginning. sorry guys. but i liked the middle and the end.

  • Andy

    The survival adventure in Life of Pi, while compelling, is not the point. The animal parable is just a vehicle to show that truth is revealed to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see–but not to those whose hearts are hard or who can see only reason. (cf. Jesus’s Parable of the Seeds thrown onto even fertile ground.) Pi’s animal story was as hard for the interviewers to believe as is God’s Story told in the parables of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.–but those stories contain the truths of all those religions. The interviewers at the end of the book thought the story without animals, with people substituted for the animals, was more likely to be true. Afterall, they were ‘reasonable’ men. In the context of the novel, the harder-to-believe story was the true one.

    How is your heart?

  • http://theenglishgardener.blogspot.com/ Jeremy

    Okay I’ve just finished the book and love the work. I found it as thought provoking as The Dice Man – I’d seen LofP mentioned in the same web-page somewhere so it led me there. The book is sort of like a Road Dahl type story, with a twist at the end.

    The hardest part to deal with is that I believe the second story. When humans are in extremis they behave in extreme ways, resorting to cannibalism if it means survival – hear the story of that plane crash in Chile in the 70s where the survivors ate the dead.

    Richard Parker is the dark side of Pi, his dark side which we all have within. When Pi was alone on the boat his dark animal side was given free reign which he had to bury once again inside his personality once he had reached civilisation. That dark side we all possess, not in such an extreme form as to eat people – but in some such mild forms as to hurt others feelings or put others down. An awareness of such badness or “evil” is a mark of growing up and leaving childlike views of the world behind.

    Richard Parker exists in all of us. We have to learn to accept and love him too.

  • Adam

    i believe the animal story… just sayin

  • Fawzia

    As others have pointed out: All the animals represent the different people in the boat. RP is the “animal” side of Pi. He seemed to have come onboard, yet “disappears” during the hyena’s killing orgy. Pi finds he was “hiding” under the tarp, too sick to react. The tiger kills the hyena (Pi’s animal side kills the cook). Yet his human side is frightened by his own animalistic instincts.
    The other blind castaway: It was his inner self. His true self, or the one he thought of as his real self, is the vegetarian one dreaming of masala and puri. The new self is the one dreaming of tripe and brain and frogs. The old self recognizes the new self as a brother, but the new self wants to kill the old self. What is the difference between the tiger (carnivorous) and the blind French? The tiger represents a natural instinct while the castaway is unnatural. Finally, natural instinct for feeding wins over sick/ abnormal cannibalistic urges.
    His wish to live forever on the island seems to mean he was content to stay on the lifeboat forever. The island was a floating mass of algae (so was the lifeboat). He had water (from the solar stills, remember, the ponds were all round and equal in size), he had abundance of food (turtles, fish) but at night (during his darkest periods, or in his own darkness) this heavenly island became a killer (acidic)that was carnivorous (he had turned to cannibalism). So he decided to leave the island (floating on the sea). Did no one notice that the minute he decided to leave the island, suddenly he lands in Mexico? When he lands, his own wilder side disappears.
    Which begs a question? Did he stay on the sea by choice? Remember the ship that bore down on him and never saw him? Did he avoid going back to live with humans?
    The point about which is the better story. We cannot accept the killing of humans by other humans, yet we naturally accept the killing of animals by other animals, even if we are put off by the gory details. If a human tames a tiger, we applaud. Yet if a human tames his own darker side, we shudder.
    So, better tell it as an allegory. Pi tells us, doesn’t God tell us parables and allegories too?

  • Meko

    THANK YOU FOR YOUR INSIGHT!!!!
    Writing an essay on which version I believe is real, and you’ve convinced me.

  • No body Nobody

    I don’t see how anyone can think the animal story is the real one. Two blind castaways bumping into each other in the ocean is at the edge of being impossible. Following that up with an Eden by day, acidic by night carnivorous big island full of thousands to millions of meerkats floating around in the ocean is well over the edge of possibility.

    I found it interesting and unfortunate that there was no explanation to the island in Pi’s second story of what happened.

    And can anyone explain how (if you believe zebra = sailor, orangutan = mom, hyena = French cook, tiger = Pi) the tiger kills the hyena early on but the French cook from the other boat gets killed much later? He killed the guy twice at two completely different parts of the story? Seems like a flaw in the story but perhaps it has some hidden meaning.

    As for the book that helps you find God. The way I read the book is that there is no God but it makes people feel better to have a good story so everyone should find the religion that has the story they like best and believe it even though it is false. Certainly not what I expected when I started but it was thought provoking.

    Overall I very much enjoyed the book and found many things to ponder which is the surest sign for me that a book was good. Was it perfect? Not in my mind, but the good easily outweighed the bad.

  • idiomsyncrasy

    Pascal’s Wager rewritten in a zany fashion.

  • http://blogcritics.org/books/article/the-life-of-pi-by-yann/ Name

    Just finished reading this book. It really made me believe that God really does exist! Amazing Book by Yann Martel!

  • JR99

    To the reviewer: You got it, but you also missed the point entirely. The point is: GOD IS THE BETTER STORY.

    Pi chooses ALL religions as a way of reconciling the inevitable TRUTH about religions, which is that none of them are “actually true.” They are all “better stories” than the hard realities they replace… though “replace” is not entirely accurate: “enhance” is a bit closer. The best term is both: religions both replace and enhance the realities of life. Just like the life of Pi… as told to all who would believe it, by Pi.

  • cjc

    There is so much commentary available on Yann Martel’s Life
    of Pi that it is difficult to find something to comment upon that is even
    remotely unique. It can seem to be a
    fanciful and mystical story drawing the reader to accept that theism is no
    greater a leap than the belief that science will explicate life; and indeed the
    former provides a greater sense of completeness as the “better story”.

    The beginning is always a place to find an early sign of the
    theme or question the author is dealing with in the book. The name Pi might
    qualify as such; although a universal constant it is an irreducible, irrational
    number, perhaps implying that science will bring an incomplete answer to life
    at best. The story attempts to blend both science and religion at the outset as
    the semi autobiography joins his study of zoology, a science dangerously close
    to Darwinism, anathema to fundamentalist religious beliefs of all persuasions
    and Religious studies itself.

    However, the principle theme of the book is the primacy of
    survival and its conflict with the constraint of human moralism to secure it.
    In a state of nature as a castaway floating on the ocean, with no authority, nor
    retribution, human behavior is debased. A Hobbesian, “War of all against all”; where
    the only thing that counts is self-preservation; not even familial ties as he
    watches his mother horribly murdered can impede this irresistible force. There
    is one chink in this interpretation when the cook appears to realize that he
    has lost his soul and welcomes death as an absolution or the dreamlike nightmare
    of the duplicity of the algae island.
    This appears to me more as a question mark than a statement but it does
    seem to touch on the idea of remorse. Embedded, is the parallel of the harshness of
    life through the maturing and loss of childlike wonderment and innocence of Pi.
    Upon reaching a safe haven the reality of the journey is reinvented to distance
    Pi from the horrors he endured; euphemistically described as sadness and gloom at the outset of the story.

    It is important to point out the difference between
    religious practice and theism. Versus a state of nature, civil society provides
    a foundation for organized religion.
    Thus, alone on the ocean the practice of religion perhaps would become
    meaningless. Indeed, the story could be read that religious dogma is
    irrelevant, since Pi sees no problem in feasting on a smorgasbord of practices,
    which the clerics see as sacred and indivisible. It is possible that we are to
    interpret Pi beyond being an individual, reflecting humanity broadly. However,
    as the story turns to the sea so the overt religiosity diminishes and although
    a belief in God may be central to his determination to survive he alludes to
    Richard Parker as his practical savior, which in the final reckoning is a
    reflection of self.

    There is childlike naivety through which Pi blends the
    religious practice of the principle religions of mankind. That naivety is sunk
    to the depths with the shipwreck. The highlight surrounding theism and religion
    does not have to be read as a revealed knowledge but can reflect what
    Tocqueville expressed sociologically as being simply another part of the
    psychology or form of hope. Certainly, cast adrift, isolated, despondent, at
    the very limits of endurance, would require a personal hope to sustain. This
    for me is the nub of the religious question of the book. If Pi were to look at his situation
    objectively, in either of the parallel narratives, the probability of survival,
    i.e. the case for science, he would doom himself. He survives because he has hope. It is not rational but like his name totally
    irrational, yet he makes it.