Life of Pi (2001)

by Yann Martel

A tale about a 15-year-old boy's living with a Bengal tiger for 227 days following a shipwreck makes for exciting reading for adventure fans, but Yann Martel's Life of Pi has broader appeal. It is ultimately a story about faith and storytelling itself.

Martel sets the stage in the first part, establishing Pi Patel, the son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry, India, as knowledgeable about animals and deeply spiritual, considering himself Hindu, Christian, and Muslim at the same time.

As the zoo's fortunes decline, Pi's father decides to move his wife, two sons, and the zoo animals to Winnepeg, Canada. Their ship sinks in the Pacific, killing all but Pi, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a tiger named Richard Parker. Pi is left sharing a lifeboat with the four animals and then, as the laws of nature would predict, with only the tiger. Using a zookeeper's son's knowledge, Pi establishes himself as the alpha creature, keeping Richard Parker from attacking him, while he feeds the both of them from the ocean. After 227 days, they reach the coast of Mexico. Richard Parker escapes into the forest, and Pi is rescued.

In the final section, Martel makes it clear that Life of Pi is more than a survival story. When Pi's true account isn't believed by two men investigating what happened to the ship, he makes up a more predictable story. The investigators prefer the made-up story. "And so it goes with God" is Pi's reaction. The truth requires faith. In asking which is the better story, Pi also generalizes about storytelling. Humans interpret their experience through the stories they shape.

With Life of Pi, Canadian author Martel won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 2002.

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