Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. Mariner Books, 2003. ISBN 978-0156027328 326 pp. $15.95
I’m reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It’s a great book! Here’s the premise: a 16-year-old boy, Pi Patel, who practices Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, emigrates to North America on a cargo ship with his mother, father, brother and the animals formerly of the Indian zoo where his father was zookeeper. The ship capsizes, and all are lost save Pi, a wounded zebra, an orangutan, a spotted hyena, and a fearsome 450-lb. Royal Bengal tiger, who take up temporary residence on an eight-foot-wide, 26-foot-long lifeboat. Soon only Pi and the tiger are left. How he manages to stave off becoming meal fodder while surviving adrift at sea for a long period of time occupies the majority of the book.
I am a person who can only take so many Gary Paulsen adventure-type stories. However, I can’t put this book down, cutting into my prized sleep time to steal just a few more moments each day with Pi and Richard Parker (the tiger, an unfortunate victim of a paperwork snafu saddling him with such a name). Aside from the adventure component (which, given the presence of a hyena and a tiger, plus the necessity of eating whatever comes to hand, can get a bit graphic), there are thoughtful treatises on the treatment of zoo animals and the merits of each of Pi’s three chosen religions, all seasoned with Indian sensibility and humour, and a twist at the end that upends everything you thought you had learned about the book while reading it.