Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

I watched the movie Life of Pi back when it first came out and enjoyed it. I forgot about its existence until I saw the book recommended to me on Goodreads and decided to buy the paperback. It was a light summer read that got me through the early weeks of taking care of a newborn.

The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes.

The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them “the truth.” After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional–but is it more true?

Life of Pi is named so because it does describe the whole of the main character’s life up until the end of his ordeal in the lifeboat. It had a bit of a slow start, describing the origin of Pi’s name and his fascination with religion. He decides that he believes in Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam, much to the confusion of his family. The first half of the book was all about this, and it had a slow start.

However, I wasn’t really bored; the prose is fantastic, and though some details got tedious, every page was interesting and engaging. That being said, the second half (the shipwreck and onward) were much more exciting and interesting. After all, that’s what we’re all here for: being on a lifeboat with a tiger.

A word of warning: the book is much more gruesome than the movie. The movie has a lot of visually stunning scenes and little, if no, gore. However, there were some stomach-churning details that weren’t present in the film (if they were, the rating would have likely been bumped up to a 15 and had more Stephen King-esque vibes). I happen to not mind details like these, and they added to the horrors of Pi’s situation.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot. The prose, as I mentioned, is just lovely, and that’s one of the most important things for me to stay interested in a story. It holds the same mysterious ending as the movie – which story is true? Which story do you want to be true?

I recommend Life of Pi for a relatively short read. For me, it’ll always remind me of the early days of my son’s life. Great book! Four stars for Life of Pi.

Get Life of Pi on Amazon US
Get Life of Pi on Amazon UK


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