Book on Tape Review :: Life of Pi

I feel like I’m the last ‘reader’ to experience Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. I was sent a copy of Martel’s newest novel, Beatrice and Virgil, recently, but I wanted to read Life of Pi first. Some how, in all of the “this is a great book!” hoopla, I missed hearing what the book was about. I’m glad I did, because I’m not sure if I would have picked it up had I known.

For the two of you left who haven’t read this book, Life of Pi is the story of a young 16 year-old boy from Pondicherry, India in the 1970’s. His father is a zoo keeper, and the first part of the book tells the story of his life in India, the philosophy of zoo keeping, and how he came to ‘claim’ three religions – Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.

The second part of the book, and the bulk of the story, is about his survival of a shipwreck and 200+ days at sea in a 30-foot life boat with a 450 lb. Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Initially, there are also on the boat a zebra, a hyena and an orangutan. They don’t last long. And in fact, Pi is unsure that he can survive with Richard Parker either, but soon comes to realize that he also can’t survive without him.

The book wraps up with their arrival on the coast of Mexico, and interview with executives from the company who owned the boat that sank and a few brief notes about life after survival.

While it may seem like the trials of a boy at sea with a tiger would get old quick, it doesn’t. Pi’s story is varied and engaging. He alternates among his physical, emotional and spiritual needs, anguish and satiation. Since I experienced this as an audio book, I’ll also add that I loved the narrator – a young man with an Indian accent. I am sure that this contributed to my ability to stay engaged with Pi’s story.

But the audio book also made parts of it hard. There were some really gruesome descriptions in the narrative, and had I been reading the physical book, I probably would have skimmed these parts. I couldn’t do this with the audio version, so I will say that there were parts that made me shudder.

Just in case the couple of you who haven’t read this stumble upon my post, I’ll “hide” the part of my discussion that contains spoilers. (Text is in white, so select the seemingly white space with your cursor to read.)

My heart sank when Pi told the second version of the story. I guess we are supposed to believe that the non-animal version is what really happened, but I really don’t want to. I want to believe that he made up that story to satisfy the men who couldn’t accept Pi and Richard Parker survived together. If we are to believe the second story, then I would argue that Pi and not the French man is Richard Parker. Four animals; four humans. The French man can’t be both they hyena and Richard Parker. That’s a little ambiguous. And, it makes for an interesting discussion of comparison given all the descriptions Pi gave of the tiger. 

One of the losses of coming to a book too late is that you miss opportunities to discuss when everyone else is reading it. I definitely feel I’ve missed out on this one.

All in all, a well crafted story and worthy of the Man Booker Prize it received in 2002.

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12 Replies to “Book on Tape Review :: Life of Pi

  1. I struggled to finish this book, because I felt like it lagged a bit in the middle. After I finished, I went back to reread a few sections to see if I had missed a few "clues" in my rush to get to a spot I might be more interested in. I suspect listening to it on tape would have a made a huge difference.
    I was angry after reading the second version. I just couldn't believe it was the truth.

  2. I really loved this book and am currently listening to Beatrice and Virgil by this author. It is really different (again about animals) and very good as well.

    Great review Elizabeth

  3. I'm glad to hear that, Diane. I've heard mixed reviews, which was one reason I wanted to go ahead and read Life of Pi – I had heard it was so good, I was afraid I wouldn't try it if B&V isn't great.

    Rebecca, I have heard one or two folks who got bogged down in the middle. In fact, when I was telling my husband about it, he said he'd be the same way. Yes, I'm sure the audio version helped to keep my interest.

  4. I never read this book because I did know what it was about, but your review makes me want to pick it up.

  5. I agree that the audio version was very good, and there are images from that book that still pop into my head from time to time. I like some interpretations that I've read that both versions are equally true, but that it's just a matter of which perception you choose. Kind of like how different cultures have different views of the world (or in Pi's case the different religions), and how the world is the same, it is our interpretations of it that are different. I like the more pleasant version with the animals, and I think that is a lot of his point – that most people prefer the nice version.

    Anyway, I liked the story so much because it made me think.

  6. I actually haven't read it yet, so you're not alone! Somehow I've always been under the impression that this was a book I was going to dislike, but just the other day I promised a few friends I was going to give it a try.

  7. Bunny & Nymeth – Both of you are avid readers, so I think it is worth it for you…Bunny, you'll have the same hard time I did with parts, so maybe read it so you can skim…

    Alyce – Yes, I love the cultural world views play into it, and quite frankly, I'm not the kind who usually likes this. Maybe I'm growing as a person! But it does make you think, and for me, it is one I want to talk about – actually need to talk about.

  8. Without giving away the spoiler, I just want to say I agree with your thoughts on it.

    I really enjoyed reading this one last year, but I heard his new book, Beatrice & Virgil, doesn't live up to Life of Pi, which makes me kinda sad.

  9. I felt jus the way you did about this book, and the ending. I liked his mashup of religion approach too. I have imagry from that book I'll never forget… the teeth in those leaf balls… catching and eating a turtle… and every time I come across some unknown seaweed, I think of the one he was able to eat on the magic island.

  10. Yeah, Swestie – I agree. There are images I won't ever get out of my mind – like the graphic description of the hyena eating the zebra while it was still alive. Yikes!

  11. Love your blog, Elizabeth. We have similar tastes in books. I'm reading Cutting for Stone on my iPad right now, and I'm also reading Life of Pi. I guess I'm one of the last two people in the world to read it. I just started it, so I don't have an opinion about it one way or the other right now, but I do appreciate your thoughts and will try to slog through the slow parts.

    Lynne's Book Reviews

  12. Thanks, Lynne – and thank you for visiting! I'll be looking for your thoughts on Cutting for Stone. I think there are still a lot of folks out there who haven't read it that are going to love it when they pick it up.

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