Life of Pi
Life of Pi cover
|Original title||Life of Pi|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-676-97376-0 (first edition, hardcover)|
|Followed by||We Ate the Children Last|
Life of Pi is a Canadian fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The protagonist, Piscine Molitor ″Pi″ Patel, an Indian boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
The novel, which has sold more than ten million copies worldwide, was rejected by at least five London publishing houses before being accepted by Knopf Canada, which published it in September 2001. The UK edition won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction the following year. It was also chosen for CBC Radio's Canada Reads 2003, where it was championed by author Nancy Lee. The French translation, L'Histoire de Pi, was chosen in the French CBC version of the contest Le combat des livres, where it was championed by Louise Forestier. The novel won the 2003 Boeke Prize, a South African novel award. In 2004, it won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Best Adult Fiction for years 2001–2003. In 2012 it was adapted into a theatrical feature film directed by Ang Lee with a screenplay by David Magee.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Major themes
- 3 Inspiration
- 4 Narrative structure
- 5 Setting
- 6 Characters
- 7 Reception
- 8 Adaptations
- 9 Other works by Martel
- 10 References
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 External links
The author′s note is an integral part of the novel. Unusually, the note describes entirely fictional events. It serves to establish and enforce one of the novel′s main themes: the relativity of truth.
Life of Pi is subdivided into three sections. In the first section, the main character, by the name of Pi Patel, an adult Canadian, reminisces about his childhood in India. His father owns a zoo in Pondicherry. The livelihood provides the family with a relatively affluent lifestyle and some understanding of animal psychology. Pi describes how he acquired his full name, Piscine Molitor Patel, as a tribute to the swimming pool in France. After hearing schoolmates tease him by transforming the first name into ″Pissing″, he establishes the short form of his name as ″Pi″ when he starts secondary school. The name, he says, pays tribute to the irrational number which is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. In describing his experiences, Pi describes several other unusual situations involving proper names: two visitors to the zoo, one a devout Muslim, and the other a committed atheist, bear identical names; and a memorably 450-pound tiger at the zoo bears the name Richard Parker as the result of a clerical error in which human and animal names were reversed.
Pi is raised a Hindu who practices vegetarianism. As a fourteen-year-old, he investigates Christianity and Islam, and decides to become an adherent of all three religions, much to his parents′s dismay, saying he ″just wants to love God.″ He tries to understand God through the lens of each religion, and comes to recognize benefits in each one.
Shifting government policies lead to a decision by Pi′s father to sell the zoo and emigrate with his wife and sons to Canada. The second part of the novel begins with Pi′s family aboard the Tsimtsum, the Japanese freighter that is transporting animals from their zoo to North America. A few days out of port from Manila, the ship encounters a storm and sinks. Pi manages to escape in a small lifeboat, only to learn that the boat also holds a spotted hyena, an injured Grant′s zebra, and an orangutan. To Pi′s distress, the hyena kills the zebra and then the orangutan. At this point, Pi learns that a tiger has been hiding under the boat′s tarpaulin: Richard Parker, who had boarded the lifeboat with ambivalent assistance from Pi himself. Suddenly emerging from his hideaway, he kills and eats the hyena.
Frightened, Pi constructs a small raft out of rescue flotation devices, tethers it to the stern of the boat and retreats to it. He begins conditioning Richard Parker to take a submissive role by using food as a positive reinforcer and seasickness as a punishment mechanism while using a whistle for signals. Pi asserts himself as the alpha animal and is eventually able to share the boat with Richard Parker.
Pi recounts various events while adrift in the Pacific Ocean. At his lowest point, exposure renders him blind and unable to catch fish. In a state of delirium, he talks with a marine ″echo″. He initially identifies the voice as Richard Parker having gained the ability to speak, but it turns out to be another castaway, also blinded. The castaway (a Frenchman) tries to come aboard Pi's lifeboat, but is quickly killed by Richard Parker. Later, Pi′s boat comes ashore on a floating island network of algae and inhabited by hundreds and thousands of meerkats. Pi gains strength, but his discovery that the island′s plant life is carnivorous forces him to return to the boat. Two hundred and twenty-seven days after the ship′s sinking, the lifeboat washes onto a beach in Mexico. Richard Parker disappears into the nearby jungle without looking back, leaving Pi heartbroken at the abrupt farewell.
The third part of the novel describes a conversation between Pi and two officials from the Japanese Ministry of Transport who are conducting an inquiry into the shipwreck. They meet him at the hospital in Mexico where he is recovering. Pi tells them his tale, but the officials reject it as unbelievable. Pi then offers them a second story in which he is adrift on a lifeboat not with zoo animals, but with the ship′s cook, a Taiwanese sailor with a broken leg, and his own mother. The cook amputates the sailor′s leg for use as fishing bait, then kills the sailor and Pi′s mother for food, and soon he is killed by Pi, who dines on him.
The officials note parallels between the two stories. They soon conclude that the hyena symbolizes the cook, the zebra the sailor, the orangutan Pi′s mother, and the tiger Pi. Pi points out that neither story can be proven and neither explains the cause of the shipwreck, so he asks the officials which story they prefer: the one without animals or the one with animals. They choose the story with the animals. Pi thanks them and says: ″And so it goes with God.″ The officers then leave him and file a report.
Life is a story
Life of Pi, according to Yann Martel, can be summarized in three statements: ″Life is a story... You can choose your story... A story with God is the better story.″ A recurring theme throughout the novel seems to be believability. Pi at the end of the book asks the two investigators "If you stumble at mere believability, what are you living for?" According to Gordon Houser there are two main themes of the book: "that all life is interdependent, and that we live and breathe via belief."
Growth through adversity
PBS has described Martel's story as one of "personal growth through adversity." The main character learns that "tigers are dangerous" at a young age when his father forces him to watch the zoo's Royal Bengal tiger patriarch, Mahisha, devour a live goat. Later, after he has been reduced to eking out a desperate existence on the lifeboat with the company of a fully grown tiger, Pi develops "alpha" qualities as he musters the strength, will and skills he needs to survive.
In a 2002 interview with PBS, Martel said "I was sort of looking for a story, not only with a small 's' but sort of with a capital 'S' – something that would direct my life." He spoke of being lonely and needing direction in his life, and found that writing the novel met this need.
Richard Parker and shipwreck narratives
The name of Martel's tiger, Richard Parker, was inspired by a character in Edgar Allan Poe's nautical adventure novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). The author also had in mind other occurrences of the name, including in at least two tales of shipwreck and resulting cannibalism.
Martel has mentioned that a book review he read of Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar's 1981 novella Max and the Cats accounts in part for his novel's premise. Scliar's story describes a Jewish-German refugee crossing the Atlantic Ocean with a jaguar in his boat. Scliar said that he was perplexed that Martel "used the idea without consulting or even informing me," and indicated that he was reviewing the situation before deciding whether to take any action in response. After talking with Martel, Scliar elected not to pursue the matter. A dedication to Scliar "for the spark of life" appears in the author's note of Life of Pi. Literary reviews have described the similarities between Life of Pi and Max and the Cats as superficial. Reviewer Peter Yan wrote: "Reading the two books side-by-side, one realizes how inadequate bald plot summaries are in conveying the unique imaginative impact of each book," and noted that Martel's distinctive narrative structure is not found in Scliar's novella. The themes of the books are also dissimilar, with Max and the Cats being an allegory for Nazism. In Life of Pi, 211 of 354 pages are devoted to Pi's experience in the lifeboat, compared to Max and the Cats, in which 17 of its 99 pages depict time spent in a lifeboat.
According to the reviewer Peter Yan,
'Life of Pi' is told from two alternating points of view, the main character Pi in a flashback and Yann Martel himself, who is the "visiting writer" (Martel 101) interviewing Pi many years after the cat in the boat story. This technique of the intrusive narrator adds the documentary realism to the book, setting up, like a musical counter-point, the myth-making, unreliable narrator, Pi. The reader is left to ponder at the end whether Pi's story is an allegory of another set of parallel events or vice versa.
The novel is a work of fiction set in the summer of 1977 that draws on places and historical events in India. The Patel Family's discussions of the political situation refer to the Emergency period of the mid-1970s, when Indira Gandhi's administration ruled by decree, curtailed press freedoms, and imprisoned political opponents. Pondicherry is a former French colony in India. It does have an Indian Coffee House and Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Garden currently has a toy train track and a small aquarium, but it does not have a zoo. It had a zoo in 1977 but did not have any animals bigger than a deer. Munnar, the destination for the Patel family's vacation, is a small but popular hill station in Kerala. Madurai, also referenced in the novel, is a popular tourist and pilgrimage site in Tamil Nadu.
Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel
Piscine Molitor Patel, known to all as just "Pi", is the narrator and protagonist of the novel. He was named after a swimming pool in Paris, despite the fact that neither his mother nor his father particularly liked swimming. The story is told as a narrative from the perspective of a middle-aged Pi, now married with his own family, and living in Canada. At the time of main events of the story, he is sixteen years old. He recounts the story of his life and his 227-day journey on a lifeboat when his ship sinks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during a voyage to North America.
Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger that is stranded on the lifeboat with Pi when the ship sinks. Richard Parker lives on the lifeboat with Pi and is kept alive with the food and water Pi delivers. Richard Parker develops a relationship with Pi that allows them to coexist in their struggle.
In the novel, a hunter named Richard Parker is hired to kill a panther thought to have killed seven people within two months. Instead he immobilizes a female Bengal tiger with tranquilizer darts while her cub escapes to hide in a bush. Parker names the cub Thirsty after its enthusiasm when drinking from a nearby river. The paperwork that accompanies the shipment of the two tigers to Pi's family's zoo in Pondicherry states that the cub's name is "Richard Parker" and the hunter's given name is "Thirsty" and his surname is "None Given". Pi and his father find the story so amusing that they continue to call the tiger "Richard Parker".
 The name of the Tiger is said to have been taken by the author from a character written originally by Edgar Allen Poe in his only full-length novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. In this book, Richard Parker is also a character that finds himself stranded on a lifeboat.
Brian Bethune of Maclean's describes Life of Pi as "[a] head-scratching combination of dense religious allegory, zoological lore and enthralling adventure tale, written with warmth and grace". Master Plots suggested the "[c]entral themes of Life of Pi concern religion and human faith in God". Reutter said "So believable is Pi's story telling that readers will be amazed." Stephens added that it "achieves something more quietly spectacular." Smith contradicted them both by saying that there was "no bamboozlement [t]here."
Stephens summarized Life of Pi as a "story about a sixteen-year-old polytheist who survives 227 days on a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger."
In October 2005, a worldwide competition was launched to find an artist to illustrate Life of Pi. The competition was run by Scottish publisher Canongate Books and UK newspaper The Times, as well as Australian newspaper The Age and Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail. Croatian artist Tomislav Torjanac was chosen as the illustrator for the new edition, which was published in September 2007.
A 2012 adaptation directed by Ang Lee and based on an adapted screenplay by David Magee was given a wide release in the United States on 21 November 2012. At the 85th Academy Awards it won four awards from eleven nominations, including Best Director.
This novel has also been adapted as a play by Keith Robinson, artistic director of the youth-oriented Twisting Yarn Theatre Company. Andy Rashleigh wrote the adaptation, which was directed by Keith Robinson. The premier/original cast contained only six actors—Tony Hasnath (Pi), Taresh Solanki (Richard Parker), Melody Brown (Mother), Conor Alexander (Father), Sanjay Shalat (Brother) and Mark Pearce (Uncle). The play was produced at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford, England, in 2003. The company toured England and Ireland with the play in 2004 and 2007.
Keith Robinson also directed a second version of the play. He brought some of his company to work with students of the BA (Hons) Drama, Applied Theatre and Education Course at the Central School of Speech and Drama. The joint production was performed at the Minack Theatre, in Cornwall, England, in late June 2008. It was well received by the press and community.
Other works by Martel
- Seven Stories (1993)
- The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (1993)
- Self (1996)
- "We Ate the Children Last" (2004)
- Teaching Yann Martel's Life of Pi from Multiple Critical Perspectives (2007)
- Beatrice and Virgil (2010)
- Short story The Vita Aeterna Mirror Company in The Secret History of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle (2010)
- 101 Letters to a Prime Minister: The Complete Letters to Stephen Harper (2012)
- The first 55 book suggestions are available as What is Stephen Harper Reading? (2009)
- 'Life of Pi' a surprise success story around the world
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- Reynolds, Nigel (30 September 2002). "Life of Pi wins Booker". The Daily Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 3 September 2010.
- "Canada Reads 2003". Canada Reads. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
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- Houser, Gordon (2003). "The Life of Pi". The Christian Century 120 (3): 34+. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
- "Life of Pi' Author Reveals to PBS..org That The Inspiration For His Best-Selling Book And Now Hit Film Came From A Little Known Book About A Shipwrecked German Boy". Retrieved 15 May 2013.
- Martel, Yann (11 November 2002). Conversation: Life of PI. Interview with Ray Suarez. PBS NewsHour. PBS. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
- Martel, Yann (27 October 2002). "Triumph of a castaway adrift in the sea of his imagination". The Sunday Times (UK). Retrieved 19 October 2010.
- "Yann Martel on tigers, cannibals and Edgar Alan Poe". Canongate Books. 14 May 2002. Archived from the original on 18 March 2008. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
- Martel, Yann. "How Richard Parker Came to Get His Name". Amazon.com. Retrieved 1 September 2010.
- "From the Author — Yann Martel — Powell's Books". Powells.com. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
- Mitgang, Herbert (11 July 1990). "Books of The Times; Fleeing the Nazis With a Jaguar That May Be Real". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 September 2010.
- Rohter, Larry (11 July 1990). "Tiger in a Lifeboat, Panther in a Lifeboat: A Furor Over a Novel". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 September 2010.
- Scliar, Moacyr (16 July 2006). Writers & Company. Interview with Eleanor Wachtel. CBC Radio 1.
- "Review". Books in Canada. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
- ""Hollow at the core": Deconstructing Yann Martel’s Life of Pi | Stratton | Studies in Canadian Literature / Études en littérature canadienne". Journals.hil.unb.ca. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
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- "Life of Pi author Martel hears from Obama". Saskatoon StarPhoenix (Winnipeg Free Press). 8 April 2010. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
- Bethune, Brian (13 April 2010). "The missing half of Yann Martel's new novel: His plan for his long-awaited follow-up to 'Life of Pi' didn't quite work out". Maclean's. Retrieved 31 August 2010.
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- Reutter, Vicki (2004). "Martel, Yann. Life of Pi.". School Library Journal.
- Stephens, Gregory (14 May 2013). "Feeding tiger, finding God: science, religion, and 'the better story' in Life of Pi.". 1 14.
- Smith, Jean (2003). "Yann Martel. Lif eof Pi.". The Review of Contemporary Fiction 23 (1).
- "Life of Pi: The Illustrated Edition by Yann Martel and Tomislav Torjanac". The Sunday Times (UK). 15 September 2007. Archived from the original on 2011-06-16. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
- Martel, Yann (15 April 2006). "A brush with the art of Pi". The Sunday Times (UK). Archived from the original on 2011-06-16. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
- "The Illustrated Life of Pi". The Guardian (UK). 27 September 2007. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
- Cooper, Neil (15 March 2007). "Life Of Pi, Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow". The Herald. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
- "A remarkable journey from novel to stage". Yorkshire Post. 6 December 2004. Retrieved 19 October 2010.
- "Production which goes for the jugular". This is Cornwall. Northcliffe Media. 18 June 2008. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
- Busby, Brian (2003). Character Parts: Who's Really Who in CanLit. Toronto: Knopf. ISBN 0-676-97579-8.
- Davies, Hugh (September 2002). "£50,000 Booker winner 'stole idea from Brazilian author'". London: Telegraph Group.
- Dwyer, June (2005). "Yann Martel's Life of Pi and the Evolution of the Shipwreck Narrative". Modern Language Studies 35 (2): 9–21. JSTOR 30039823.
- "'May Richard Parker be always at your side'". The Guardian (UK). November 2002.
- Fialkoff, Francine (December 2002). "Too Sensitized to Plagiarism?". Library Journal.
- McMurtrie, John (October 2005). "French director swept away by 'Life of Pi'". San Francisco Chronicle.
- Varughese, Samson (February 2013). "Does "The Life of Pi" Prove the existence of God?". TheMinistryRookie.com.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Life of Pi|
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