Review of the novel Life of Pi by Jan Martel

“The Life of Pi” is an enthralling tale of a young boy and his troubles at sea. It’s about his fight for survival with a Bengal tiger. The boy also struggles with his religion and identity. Readers can take the messages presented to them in the story and apply them to everyday lives. They will fall in love with its colorful cast of characters and its deviation from usual story plots.

Since the author, Yann Martell, has been through many life-changing experiences during his life, it’s fitting to say that “The Life of Pi” is also life-changing in its quality and style.

Yann Martell was born on June 25, 1963 in Spain. He was born to Emile and Nicole, who were in Spain at the time when Yann was born due to his father’s pursuit of a doctorate degree. Martell did not spend a lot of time in his birthplace, as his parents soon joined the foreign service. He grew up in France, Costa Rica, and Mexico, before settling in Canada to go to college. These places where he grew up would have most likely influenced the setting of his literary works. In 1987, Martell graduated from Ontario’s Trent Univeristy with a degree in philosophy, which could have also influenced Martell’s style and the meanings of his books. From there, Martell worked as a tree planter, dishwasher, security guard, and many other jobs before becoming a writer at the age of twenty-seven. Even though he lived Canada, Martell still traveled, visiting many exotic places around the world. Such places include Turkey, Iran, and India, where Martell gained many of the ideas for his future works, which would later capture the hearts of many people around the world.

During his travels, Martell wrote his first book, called “The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios” in 1993. It was actually a collection of short stories that dealt with themes such as grief and death. Many of these themes would reoccur in the Life of Pi, published about eight years later. Three years after the publication of “The Facts behind the Helsinki Roccamatios”, Martell published “Self”. “Self” was a cleverly crafted story of a young boy struggling with his sexuality and identity. According to Jeffrey Hunter, “The novel works as a study on subjectivity and identity, and Martel has been praised for his investigation of gender roles and the subjective nature of self” (Hunter, 2012). Five years later, Martell published his most well-known book, “The Life of Pi” in 2001. The book was so good that it was met with widespread acclaim from all across the globe. According to Hunter, “ The critically acclaimed novel has been compared to the work of Jospeh Conrad and Salman Rushdie” (Hunter, 2012). He received the Booker Prize for his outstanding literary work. On top of that, he was asked to teach at a university in Berlin, Germany.

“ The Life of Pi” manages to break the mold of many stories that have preceded it. It manages to stray significantly from cliché or regular adventure stories. The author of this amazing book, Yann Martel, blends together vivid feelings, colorful imagery, and inspiring messages into one uplifting journey. This creates an inspiring tale for many generations.

Characters are deeply flawed and relatable, rather than perfect, flawless characters. The characters display raw, unfiltered, and pure emotions that have a very large influence on the reader. For example, in the story, sixteen year-old Pi Patel seems like another perfect character on the outside. He is smart, does very well in school, runs a zoo with his family, and is a deeply religious individual. However, Pi’s character flaws lie within his religious identity. He believes in three different religions. He has many flashbacks regarding his faith, such as being in a religious house or remembering previous journeys around the world that pertained to his faith. These conflicts always haunt him and he is forced to deal with them every day. On top of that, Pi has an avalanche of work to do every single day. Such things include running the zoo his parents own and keeping up with his work in school. This makes his problems about faith even more overwhelming. Being overwhelmed is something that many people experience daily, so this makes Pi’s situation more relatable to readers of all ages. However, Pi always makes the best out of every situation he faces, no matter how difficult it is. That is a lesson that everyone should live by.

As the story continues on, Pi and his family must move to Canada. They pack their animals onto a boat called the Tsimtsum. However, the boat sinks killing everyone except Pi and a few animals including a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a tiger known as Richard Parker. Richard Parker eats all the animals except for Pi, who must fight for survival at sea. In order to stay alive, Pi creates his own section of the lifeboat that they are riding in. He must catch fish for food and depends on the rain for water. This struggle shows how fortunate many people around the world are to have lots of food and water and a roof above their heads. We take these things for granted and do not think about thousands of other people around the world who are suffering from lack of food, water, and shelter.

The settings in the story are also key elements that bring the novel to life. The settings are so vividly described and seem so real that readers feel like they are actually in the story. Pi’s fight for survival at sea lasts for months, but during that time he also visits a beautiful island along the way, full of otherworldly life. He encounters lush, glowing vegetation and colonies of meerkats that span farther than the naked eye can see. However, after the sun sets, the island reveals its carnivorous true nature to Pi and Richard Parker, forcing them to retreat to the sea. The island shows how deadly nature can be at its worst times and how it can surprise you at any second. According to Pi, “ I preferred to set off and perish in search of my own kind than to live a lonely half-life of physical comfort and spiritual death on this murderous island” (Martell, 2001, p. 283).

Many more months pass until Pi and Richard Parker arrive in Mexico. Richard Parker then wanders into the jungle, leaving Pi to fend for himself. Pi is then interviewed about what happened in his ordeal at sea. When his interviewers did not believe the real story, he replaced the animals in the lifeboat with humans, asking which story they preferred, which then concludes the novel. Pi tells the reporters, “ You can’t prove which story is true and which is not. You must take my word for it” (Martell, 2001, p. 317). The skepticism of the interviewers highlights the last message the story has to offer, which is pertaining how humans trust one another.

While most of the book is of extraordinary quality, there are some parts of the book that are not worthy of praise. For example, part one of the story was slow and lacked the thought and emotion of the latter parts. Of course, this part was necessary because it set up the characters, setting, and other important elements of the story. Nevertheless, the boring part did not change the outlook of the story as a whole. It was still an enjoyable book to read.

In conclusion, Yan Martel’s “ The Life of Pi” is a heartfelt, inspiring, and entertaining tale that is sure to entertain readers of all ages. There are many things that made this story a success, but the most important was its characters and setting. Without these driving forces of the plot, there would be no story to begin with. Nevertheless, Yan Martell poured his heart and soul into writing “ The Life of Pi.” His passion and dedication to his work truly shine through when you read it.

Works Cited Page

  1. Langer, Adam. ‘The new paper tiger: Yann Martel. (Ten Who Made It Big in 2002).’ Book, Jan.-Feb. 2003, p. 37. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 27 Nov. 2018.
  2. ‘Life of Pi.’ Novels for Students, edited by Ira Mark Milne, vol. 27, Gale, 2008, pp. 129-155. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 28 Nov. 2018.
  3. Stephens, Gregory. ‘Feeding tiger, finding God: science, religion, and ‘the better story’ in Life of Pi.’ Intertexts, vol. 14, no. 1, 2010, p. 41+. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 28 Nov. 2018.
  4. ‘Yann Martel.’ Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Jeffrey W. Hunter, vol. 315, Gale, 2012. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 27 Nov. 2018.