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Yann Martel's Life of Pi

Sep 06, 2004 08:06 PM IST

Yann Martel?s Life of Pi is a magical tale of adventure and survival.

Yann Martel’s Life of Pi is a magical tale of adventure and survival. It is quirky, fantastic and unreal, and completely believable. Pi Patel lives in Pondicherry. Son of a zoo-owner, the beginning pages engage the reader on a tale of how he got the name Pi.

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Spurred by the growing unrest in India, Pi’s father packs up and shifts base to Canada — family, extended family (meaning the animals) and all. They embark on the journey in high spirits, but for some mysterious reason their ship capsizes and of his family, Pi alone survives.

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The rest of the book is Pi’s tale of survival on a small lifeboat on the open seas, where he remains for 227 days. The punch that makes this survivor tale different from any other you may have read before is that Pi’s companions on this journey are a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, a zebra, a hyena and an orangutan. The animals are each a function of a human trait that Martel wanted them to represent — the zebra exoticism, the hyena cowardliness and the orangutan’s maternal instincts.

Pi is a colourful character. He’s a sixteen year old who ‘collects’ religions, has an amazing capacity for faith and an upside–down, open-minded way of looking at things. Pi’s greater knowledge of animals, thanks to his father and his zoo, tells him that, handled right, a tiger will not harm the only human on board even if it is hungry. Yet the same knowledge also tells him just how bad things can be and how ferocious the friendly Richard Parker can be, if he does something wrong.

Martel’s masterstroke is the double story he tells in the end, once Pi has been rescued — a version in which the animals are replaced by humans. It’s a version that takes you a little by surprise and hits you in the gut, even though it’s been hinted at throughout the book and you probably sense it, in the humanness of the animals.

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