Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)


Life of Pi was finally published in 2001 by the Canadian Publishing House Knopf Canada. Finally, because it had been turned down by no less than five London Publishing Houses before Knopf stepped in. (Wikipedia)

I had never heard of the book and only became aware of its existence when I saw a trailer for Ang Lee’s film version. I would not have noticed it then, but for the fact that English actor Rafe Spall was in the trailer and as I am a big fan, I paid close attention to it.

My daughter told me that the Ang Lee tim was based on a book and it was put on my “to read” list immediately.

Like all other things that suddenly appear in our everyday peripheral vision, the book as well as the film, quickly faded into obscurity; overshadowed by other events that were forefront in my mind. The film was brought back to my attention when Ang Lee won theĀ Best Director Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards.

After that, I kept my eye out for a copy of the book, either in the Library or to purchase. I found the book on Amazon Kindle for the obscenely low price of 20 pence (that’s about 50 cents in American currency). I could not turn down such an offer and I downloaded it and read it in one day.

At 326 pages the book is not overly long and the pace and writing style is brisk enough that it can be read very quickly. Of course the content of the book also guarantees that the reader is loath to put the book down for even the briefest of moments. Suffice to say, that Yann Martel had me on the first sentence of his Authors NoteĀ of the book.

Life of Pi follows the life of the writer (Martel, but only as the narrator and chronicler of the main character’s story) and Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel. Pi starts his life in India and his father runs the local zoo. Pi is a curious young man who, in his quest to learn about God, practices three separate religions at once. It causes a small amount of friction amongst the holy men of his town, Pondicherry, but his lessons from each theological belief stands him in good stead later on.

Due to financial difficulties, his father decides to sell the zoo and the animals. He also decides that he and his family will accompany the animals on their sea journey to Canada. After the ship sets sail, it sinks with no warning and only Pi is left alive. He takes refuge on one of the ships lifeboats which he shares with a hyena, a Zebra, and orangutan and a Bengal Royal Tiger named Richard Parker.

We accompany Pi on his journey and witness the oddities and hardships that he faces while adrift in the sea. He has a “fantastic” voyage and we are privy to all of it.

This “fantasy/adventure” story, that was almost never published, is one of the most fascinating and entertaining books I’ve read in a long time, not by a favourite author. Like most avid readers, I have my “stable” of authors that I will return to again and again. Not just because I like their stories, but I like their writing style and their little touches that make a tale come to life.

Yann Martel has now found a place on my favourite author list, quite high up actually. His way of moving a story forward and letting us into Pi’s world and his beliefs are almost poetic in nature. For the entire length and breadth of the book, I felt that Pi and his adventures were real, just waiting to be revealed as some outlandish truth that could be verified via the internet or some dusty old tome in a library. Such was the power of his writing.

I will, of course, now have to see the film. I can only hope that Ang Lee has managed to capture the scope and the fantastic element of this brilliant tale. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Martel’s wonderful book, I’d recommend taking advantage of the 20 pence (or the monetary equivalent where you live) bargain price and read it.

I know that this is a book that I will read again and again.

5 stars.

Photo courtesy of
Author Yann Martel. Photo courtesy of