“Lifeof Pi” by Yann Martel

Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a genius novel full of vivid descriptions and imagery.  So far, I have enjoyed Life of Pi, but I admit the book was not at all what I had expected it to be.  I saw a small clip of the movie at Costco one day, and Pi was stranded in the middle of the ocean fighting off flying fish with a tiger.  I first opened the book ready to read pages full of action and suspense, but I soon discovered Life of Pi was the exact opposite of what I had anticipated (the first few pages were about Pi’s expertise with sloths).  Even though Life of Pi does not have the most exciting plot, there are many other qualities of the book that make it better than an action book. The main character, Pi, has original thoughts on what most people would take for granted as ordinary.  His thoughtfulness encourages the reader to do some thinking of his own, and the topics discussed in Life of Pi are all interesting.  Along with Pi’s unique ideas, I especially enjoyed his witty analogies.  In one part of the book he compares zoo animals with alcoholic guests at a hotel, giving the reader a new perspective of how most things one sees are not how they appear to be.  Not all of Pi’s ideas are very clear though, and there are some parts of the book that are a little mysterious.  Every time I encounter another chapter in italics, I wonder why the author chose to include the chapter.  So far, they do not seem to contribute much to the plot or themes.  I am also curious to see how Pi’s devotion to religion and the zoo will tie in with the rest of the story.

There are two things that affect Pi’s life the most: religion and the zoo.  The zoo is Pi’s home, and he spends a lot of time there.  I can relate to Pi because I feel the same way about dance.  It is nice having a place to belong, and I think most people have a sanctuary where they feel completely comfortable, whether it is in their room reading or somewhere else.  Also, I do not know much about people’s lives in India, but Pi’s life seems so normal compared to an average American child.  He goes to school, swims, and spends time at the zoo, where his father works.  He spends time doing the same activities as many kids, but he treats life differently from most high-schoolers I know.  He is very devoted to what he does, whether it is part of his religion or just swimming to please his grandfather.  Pi is also very open-minded.  I found it shocking that even though he practices three religions, he still respects the views of Mr. Kumar, an atheist.  It seems like Pi lets others influence his opinions, but he has developed his own opinions enough to be independent.  Pi is an interesting character, and I am excited to see where the next twenty-five chapters will take him.

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10 responses to ““Lifeof Pi” by Yann Martel

  1. camipontarelli

    So far, I am thoroughly enjoying the Life of Pi by Yann Martel. This novel has definitely defied my expectations. Like Lauren, after having seen trailers for the movie, I was expecting less detailed writing with a more action packed plot. However, in the first twenty five chapters, Martel’s writing skills are on full display. The novel is set in a very interesting place and when describing Pi’s surroundings Martel exhibits incredible imagery, witty analogies, and an ability to seamlessly discuss interesting points about many different topics without interrupting the flow of the story. Martel’s use of adjectives creates a clear picture of the world of Piscine Molitor Patel and his analogies are cleverly crafted so that the reader knows exactly what point Martel is attempting to convey. Through Pi, Martel brings up fresh and interesting ideas about topics I had never given much thought to before. At one point, Martel compared the idea of releasing zoo animals to the wild with evicting innocent people from their homes and expecting them to be happy about it. Martel also compared zoo habitats to people’s homes in another way, arguing that providing all of an animal’s necessities in a smaller amount of space is no different than what we humans do by making our most important resources available to us in a condensed area. It was interesting to me that he could state such controversial opinions in a way that I don’t feel would make anybody uncomfortable. Martel’s characterization is also interesting. In Pi, he has created a character that is relatable in some ways but still maintains an element of mystery. I can also relate to Pi the same way Lauren does. Sometimes I feel like my true home is at church with the friends that I have made there, or at the barn when I work there in the summer. Pi has a place where he belongs at the zoo, and I feel like I belong when I am with the people that I love doing what I love. Along with Lauren, I also found his ability to follow three religions and keep an open mind to others’ beliefs while maintaining a clear vision in his head of what he believes fascinating. This book has gotten off to a very good start and I am excited watch the story unfold throughout the rest of the book.

    • mikaylafraunfelder

      Much to my surprise, I did not actually discover this story until long after the movie had come out, and I cannot believe it has taking me even longer to delve into it’s pages. So far I am thoroughly enjoying the story and complex philosophical questions that arise as I read. One of these pertaining to Pi’s views on animal behavior. On page 44, Pi talks about how a Lion Tamer manage’s to ‘tame’ a lion and get the lion to do tricks. He says that because lions, and animals in general, are extremely territorial, the Lion Tamer must enter the ring first and make a show of dominance in front of the lions. This asserts his superiority and makes the lions respect him if not fear him, for they are intruding in his territory. But at that point, Pi shifts his argument ever so slightly to what type of lion the Tamer will use for his parlor tricks. And Pi reaches the conclusion that it is the Omega, or the socially inferior lion. This leads Pi to say this “Socially inferior animals are the ones that make the most strenuous, resourceful efforts to get to know their keepers. They prove to be the ones most faithful to them, most in need of their company, least likely to challenge them or be difficult.” (Martel 45). When I read this I had to mark it immediately, for I agreed with the statement completely. Animals have an extremely acute sixth sense, which is their instinct or intuition. The smartest of animals will find one who will care for and protect them. Whether this being is human or another animal does not matter to the animal in question, as long as they are being worried over. But from this conclusion a question arises. Why don’t all animals find a companion or protector? And why are some animals the protector and others the protectee? The answer to these questions lies in Pi’s conclusion as to why a Lion Tamer is successful. A social hierarchy. Animals and humans alike base their lives on it. The Alphas are the strongest and therefore best suited to surviving on their own, but often end up the shepherd of their brethren. Whereas the Omegas are weak, they are frequently extremely intuitive and know how to survive with the scarcity of strength fate has handed them. This was Pi’s point when he stated that Omegas in captivity strain to create a relationship with their keeper, because they know that it will be beneficial to them in the long run. Many other questions and answers such as this last one came up as I read, and I only wish I could write about all of them. Yann Martel skillfully writes about a million topics, answers a million questions, and still manages to cultivate a heartwarming story that I have yet to finish.

  2. mikaylafraunfelder

    As I began the second quarter of this story, I was curious to see how Martel would get Pi from the peaceful villages of India to the unpredictable waters of the Pacific. I got my answer in chapter 34. Now, allow me to back track a bit. In part on of the book, the chapters are purely introductory. They present the reader a gateway to Pi’s thought process and opinions. Each chapter seems to have nothing to do with it’s past or future counterpart. Anyway, the same went for chapter 34. The chapter before it is simply Pi’s musings, while the one before that is centered on animal behavior.
    It is in chapter 34 that the story so many have read and enjoyed begins. Pi and his brother Ravi are told that they are moving to Canada, a place Pi states as being equivalent to that of Timbuktu, or a place perpetually far away and alien as the author states it.
    But I am not going to elaborate what happens on the trip oversees, for what is the point of reading the story if I tell you the highlights now? No, I am going to discuss a quote from the story that I found both amusing and enlightening. Shortly after Pi notifies the reader of the move, he begins to narrate the process of how his family dispersed of the zoo, which had for so long been their pride and joy. It was in this series of passages that he stated how difficult it was to move a creature that wanted for nothing but the necessities, because though the creature was simple, its overseers were not and therefore a simple transaction was almost impossible. Pi, to give the reader a scale of how difficult selling and dispersing the zoo was, said this; “Moving a zoo is like moving a city.” (Martel 88). This amused me quite a bit at the absurdity of it, but also made sense in a way. When you think about it, zoos are nothing more than a manifestation of civilization. Only instead of humans inhabiting the premises, animals called the walls of the structures home. It was enlightening to see how such a simple statement to lead to a gateway into a whole other form of thoughts.
    This was only a small part of the second quarter of the book, but I fear that if I elaborate anymore, I will ruin the story for those of you who look forward to reading this story for the first time should you get the chance.
    This book is expertly written and in the chapters to come I am certain to be amazed yet again by the beauty of such a raw story.

  3. In the next 27 chapters of Life of Pi, Pi faces a new challenge: he is stranded in the middle of the ocean with his entire family at the bottom of the sea. This change really puts him to the test, and he has to learn to cope with this loss. At first, I was amazed with how he was able to stay so calm. I wondered how he could bear to think that he was an orphan, had no idea where he was, and how helpless he was, without showing any sign of apprehension. Pi remains mentally sound for an impressive amount of time. At first, I was worried about what would happen to him. How would he ever get back? What about his new life in Canada? Would he have to get adopted? Then I remembered that he graduated from college with a degree in religion and biology, so he must have managed to survive somehow. After another few chapters, however, Pi began to irritate me. Did you two (Mikayla and Cami) feel the same way? It takes him a couple of days to even grasp the fact that his family is dead. People have their own ways of coping with losses. I usually try to not expect too much because I will be more prepared for what happens. Pi has his own way of handling the situation, by staying hopeful. For some people, hoping for the best keeps him enthusiastic, but for Pi, his hope makes him naïve. He does not mentally or physically prepare himself for what is coming. When Pi finds the cans of water, he mindlessly drinks 4 cans without thinking of saving them, and he expects a ship to come rescue him in a few hours. Pi does not think ahead at all until he realizes what a dire circumstance he is really in. When I thought about it, I was terrified with what Pi has to deal with. Pi has no place to go to feel secure anymore, unlike before. He does not have any family or friends left, and is left with the sharks and tiger to replace them. I have no idea what I would do if I were in his position; I would probably injure myself attempting to shove an oar down the tiger’s throat or hitting him on the head. Earlier, Mikayla discussed how the tiger trainer attains superiority with the tigers by entering “the lion ring first, and in full sight of the lions. In doing so, he establishes that the ring is his territory, not theirs, a notion that he reinforces by shouting, stomping about, by snapping his whip,” (Martle 43). In Pi’s situation, the tiger has showed that the boat is his territory, and now Pi finds himself the inferior one. His survival is endangered. Some good does come from this, when Pi starts outsmarting his opponent. (This is where Pi stopped annoying me.) Pi comes up with some clever ideas that would not have been created if it were not for the tiger. Also, Pi’s conditions on the lifeboat reveal to him certain things that he would not have known if the shipwreck had not happened. First, he underestimates the power of the sea when it sinks his boat, and when the hyena and orangutan fight, he discovers a hidden side to Orange Juice. Next, when he learns that the tiger is on board, his perspective of the hyena is changed. He could have been best friends with the hyena compared to his fear of the tiger, and he learns why the zebra was left alone for so long. Finally his hunger threw all his fears out of proportion, and it gives him enough courage to venture into the tiger’s territory. Pi learns from all this to not underestimate nature; when nature can be beautiful, it is also extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, it is now a battle between Pi and nature–an unlikely match. How will he ever outlive the tiger?

  4. I was excited to read the next part of Life of Pi, and I was not let down. Pi’s musings were one of the things that got me interested in the novel in the first few chapters. I agree with Mikayla that while they sometimes had little to no relevance to those before or after them, they were thought provoking and entertaining. However, while I was reading these chapters part of me was also wondering when the real action was going to start and we would learn more about the plot. When the plot does come back into the spotlight, it does so in a big way: with Pi stranded on a lifeboat full of wild animals. This rapid turn of events was thought provoking in an entirely new way as Pi was faced with the daunting task of survival while coping with the tragedy that killed his entire family and left him stranded in the ocean. Like Lauren, my first reaction was to worry, but after I began to think rationally I realized that he was going to be fine. Lauren mentioned that Pi began to irritate her, but I do not feel the same way. When I am faced with something that is difficult to deal with, I cope by refusing to be anything but optimistic. I am not saying that is a good thing because in certain situations this can result in naïveté, but it helps to make the best of what is going on. While there were times when Pi’s decisions frustrated me, I could see why it would be easier to be overly hopeful and naïve than face what has happened when it is something as horrible as what Pi went through. Unfortunately, Pi is faced with even more shocking developments as time goes on. Pi learns that there is yet another passenger on the lifeboat in the form of Richard Parker the tiger. It seems like all of the odds are stacked against Pi, but we know that he somehow makes it out alive in the end. So far this is proving to be a well-written thought provoking read and I can’t wait to keep reading and see how Pi makes the best of this situation.

  5. laurencooper503

    Martel’s cleverness continues to impress me more and more since the last quarter of the book. When Pi describes the pain he went through being a castaway, he says, “When it is light, the openness of the sea is blinding and frightening. When it is dark, the darkness is claustrophobic. When it is day, you are hot and wish to be cool and dream of ice cream and pour sea water on yourself. When it is night, you are cold and wish to be warm and dream of hot curries and wrap yourself in blankets,” (Martel 216). Pi goes on listing more opposites, and these opposites are woven in throughout the story. The author illustrates a fascinating contrast between life and death, and shows their similarities. Pi finds himself being tired of his life when he has enough food and supplies on the raft; things become monotonous to him, and he even thinks about giving up. Once a storm comes and things get rough, Pi values his life dearly again. Just like the first half of the book, Pi’s position totally changes his perspective. This occurs again when Pi uses the tiger as a tool for survival and what he fears the most becomes his only hope. Richard Parker is a threat to him and at the same time, his only chance of survival. Their complicated relationship is overwhelming to think about; Pi loves Richard Parker and fears him, and somehow manages to stay the “alpha male” of the lifeboat.
    Time also becomes a convoluted idea to Pi on the boat. In the first half of the book, Pi’s life once ran at a regular pace, when now he has all the time in the world. When having time can be relaxing and peaceful, having too much of it turns time into an enemy. If Pi does not have something to occupy himself with, he will mentally deteriorate. Without something to keep himself busy, he feels like he has nothing to live for and his own thoughts haunt his brain endlessly. This was a strange concept to me because I have so little time in my life that I value every second of it (I have learned to brush my teeth while reading a book and changing into my pajamas, though I typically try to stay away from multi-tasking). I cannot even imagine how frustrated I would be if I were stranded on a lifeboat with so much time while being restricted from using it.

  6. mikaylafraunfelder

    In the third quarter of the book I’ve begun to appreciate Martel’s indirect comparisons more and more. Through out the third quarter you see Pi slowly losing his humanity but gaining keen survival skills. He learns to tame Richard Parker, the tiger on board with him, and becomes the dominate species.
    All of this is a representation of what one would do to survive. What anyone would do to survive. You see at the beginning of the story Pi barely hanging onto life. He struggles with his morals and his need to survive. It is when Pi witnesses the hyena murder the zebra slowly and painfully that he realizing the animals will not play fair. They are not surviving by a code of morals, they are simply surviving.
    You see Pi’s transition from religious, moral, sensitive scholar to desperate, tough, animalistic survivor. Pi begins to succumb to the need to kill. To kill the fish that he catches and the turtles that wander into his grasp. He recognizes the need to assert his dominance over Richard Parker and does so using an orange whistle he had.
    As I witnessed the change in Pi, a question arose; How far would I go to survive, even if it meant taking on a tiger? Everyone has something they wish to live for, but not all have the true grit it takes to survive. There are those who survive by taking the cowards path, and those who survive by taking the hero’s path. No one knows who they are until they look survival and death in the face, as well as the consequences that follow both.
    I like to think that I would take the hero’s path and still manage to survive. But Pi never thought he would forsake his morals or kill one of God’s creations. And yet he did both. So I guess I’ll never know until I’m faced with the choice myself.

  7. laurencooper503

    Life of Pi: 9/10 stars
    The last half of the book left me satisfied with the way things turned out for Pi and wondering where he will go with the rest of his life. All the ideas Pi discussed in Book One were tied in at the end. The concept of being confined in the wild ties in at the end when the tiger runs away. Richard Parker now lives his life hiding and trying to avoid the dangers of the wild when in the beginning of the book he had comfort in the zoo. Next, the meaning of belief is finally settled. In the beginning of the novel, Pi explored different religions to grow closer to God and grow in faith. In the end, he teaches the Japanese men interviewing him about belief, saying, “Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?” (Martel 297). At sea, Pi sees what many would call impossible, and his beliefs are strengthened. He learns to keep faith in the most desperate situations and now is able to spread the same hope to others. Another idea that Martel wrapped up in the end was the obstinate tendencies that humans have. The reader sees how humans cause harm again and again until the end of the book, where the interviewers refuse to believe Pi’s story. The interviewers, by not believing him, limit themselves from seeing the valuable lessons of his story. On the very last page of Life of Pi, the interviewers start to understand, giving the reader hope one last time. Mikayla mentions how Pi has to “forsake his morals” to survive. I think that Pi only did what was necessary to survive and that any other human would have done the same thing too. Mormonism, Hinduism, and Islam all have very different rules about what to do in these kinds of situations, and it is a mystery how he interprets the conflicting laws of each. One religion may say that eating animals is okay while another says not to, and because of this I am a little unsure of whether Pi’s actions were correct or not. I know that my religion would allow me to kill fish to survive, and Pi only witnessed the murders (he was unable to prevent them), so I would still think Pi took the hero’s path to surviving. After all, he had strength and faith the whole way through.
    When the tiger leaves Pi, Pi is sad he did not receive a proper good-bye. On page 285 he says,”I was weeping because Richard Parker had left me so unceremoniously. What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell. Where we can, we must give things a meaningful shape. For example—I wonder—could you tell my jumbled story in exactly one hundred chapters, not one more, not one less?” Martel concludes his novel with precisely one hundred chapters, “not one more, not one less”, making up for the way the Richard Parker’s story ended. Yann Martel is exact with the entire book from the way he describes things, lays out the story, to how he concludes it. I was happy with the ending, and I thought it gave the book a final sense of worth. Overall, Life of Pi was interesting and insightful. I enjoyed reading it, and I learned a lot from Martel’s writing and the messages he included. I strongly recommend it to everyone in this class.

  8. mikaylafraunfelder

    9/10 Stars
    I gave this book 9/10 stars. It is a masterfully crafted work with plenty of background and a strong ending. The way Martel shapes Pi, showing his growth and transitions, and linking every seemingly random chapter to the story that is the raft is remarkable. I think one of my favorite parts in the story is when Pi’s ship begins to sink and he is forced into a raft. Now I recognize that this is a rather morbid event but the way Martel illustrates it is brilliant. He turns a tragic moment into a comical act. First is the sailors pushing Pi into the life raft, not to save him but hoping either he will get rid of the hyena or the hyena will get rid of him. Second in when a zebra, a zebra of all things, seeks safety by jumping from the ship and into the life raft. And lastly is when Pi makes the decision to save Richard Parker. At the time of doing so, Pi was simply focused on preserving what was familiar, and Richard Parker was one of those things. But soon after, Pi also realized the inviting a tiger about a small life raft with you is not the best survival tactic. The comical part about this is that in attempt to keep Richard Parker away from the raft Pi began to yell “Stop! Stop!” frantically and whack the tiger with a paddle! Of course the creature got aboard safely anyway.
    Now I do have some criticism. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the story and many of it’s components make it great, two specific things left me disappointed. First was the ending. It is a satisfying ending, and one does get a glimpse of Pi’s future in the beginning of the book, but you never find out what happened to the rest of Pi’s family. Not that I believe it plausible that they had survived, but closure is always nice, for in the short time that I had known them (through the book of course) I had grown quite attached to them, as much as Pi had. My second piece of criticism was the brutal reality with which this story was written. Though this may be more of a pet peeve or complaint than any kind of criticism. Anyway, I was always shocked at how crass the language and actions seemed. The way the story was raw and untempered was something that was completely new to me. The description of the struggles Pi went through was unbearably painful, the way he slowly lost his humanity to the clutches of survival was tragic and the way he would slip in and out of sanity was mind melting. It may be a sign of good writing that Martel was able to illustrate these events so well, but it would still make me sick at times.
    Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I do look forward to seeing the movie. I would very much like to see how the movie rivals to book; how it differs and compares. I also may seek out a new story by Yann Martel.
    Until the next story.

    • camipontarelli

      Life of Pi: 9/10 stars
      I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I thought that it was written extremely well. Yann Martel did a fantastic job of giving every little thing he wrote a purpose and meaning, even if you did not find out until later in the novel. The way that this book was cleverly written is one of my favorite things about it, because it makes you think. You may not recognize the significance of something when you first read it, but later in the story you have a revelation and these ideas can lead you down a whole new road of thinking you’ve never been down before. That is why I absolutely loved the ending, in contrast to Mikayla. Many things that may not have seemed important when I first read them suddenly became clear when the alternative story was revealed. For example, when Richard Parker left Pi in Mexico, I didn’t believe it to be a significant event. But upon understanding that Richard Parker was in fact a symbol for Pi himself, I came to realize that the person Pi needed to be on the lifeboat and the person he needed to be when he returned to the real world were very different people and he could be one or the other but not both. This opened me up to thoughts about wearing masks, and the different personas we wear depending on our environment. I love books where I can select a tiny detail such as this and after further examination have a whole new world of thoughts opened to you. My other point of praise is in fact Mikayla’s other criticism. I loved the raw way that this story is written. As a reader, I do not often appreciate sugar coating and this book was definitely not sugar coated. I feel that brutal honesty of the writing added to the book’s meaning rather than detracted from it. Overall, I loved this book and it is definitely one of my favorite that I’ve read.

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