Life of Pi is the story of Piscine Molitor Patel – known as Pi – a young, bookish boy whose life revolves around the hippos, hyenas, bears and other animals at his father’s zoo in Pondicherry, India. Curious by nature, Pi is deeply influenced by religion, and learns about and embraces three of them – Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. But his idyllic life at the zoo comes to an end when his father decides to pack up and move the family to Canada for a better life. They leave aboard a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum along with many of their animals, who are bound for zoos in the US. A few days into their journey, disaster strikes – their ship, along with most of the animals and the entire Patel family – bar Pi – sink to the depths of the ocean. 16-year old Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with a zebra, hyena, orang-utan and a Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Of course, the only animal to survive is Richard Parker, and Pi must share his lifeboat with him and hope for a miraculous rescue.
The book is hailed as a modern day classic, a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe. But sadly, I found it lacking.
I read the book after watching the movie, as I was sure the philosophy and meditation on life would be better conveyed through the written word. However, this was not so. Life of Pi is one of those few books that do much, much better as a movie.
There are aspects of the book that are rather gruesome – especially the portion where the hyena eats the orang-utan. The “message” that Martel aims to convey – faith translates to belief in the improbable; atheism means choosing the story you already know; and agnosticism as a refusal to choose – seems to be lost in translation.
Probably if you can put your expectations aside, you might find it an interesting read, as Martel’s writing style and plot build-up are excellent.
For me though, it was all a bit disappointing.