Saturday, January 7, 2012

Book 01 - Life of Pi - Yann Martel

A rather lengthy preamble this time.  If you want to just read the review, you can skip down to "Book 01."

No sense dwelling in the past.  I had a miserable showing last year.  I read nineteen books, twenty really - but I never bothered to review Tom Brokaw's The Time of our Lives, even though I finished it weeks ago.  For a while there I was frantically trying to finish books in a futile attempt to make a decent showing, but eventually I just decided to fall back, regroup and try again for 2012.

I think part of the problem I had with Brokaw's book was that I didn't buy into the premise that reporting on the news for many years qualified you to identify solutions for what ails us as a nation.  I don't think it disqualifies you either - I think it's just a separate skill set.  I like Tom, and I agreed with many things he said in the book, but I disagreed with some too, and just found it all to be generally uninteresting.  Does that count as my review??  It doesn't really matter.  I didn't get it in by the deadline, so I guess it's still just nineteen books.  

But it's a brand new year, and I have a brand new Kindle!  My brother gave it to me for Christmas (thanks, Kevin!), and so far I love it...for the most part.  I didn't realize that the new ones are ad driven, which I don't care much for.  Instead of being able to select the picture that comes up when the device has been unattended, it shows a full screen ad for something.  I've learned to aggressively tune it out though, to the point where I'm not likely to consume any of the products or services by companies, simply out of spite, which might be something that advertisers should take note of.  Still, it's nice to finally have an e-reader.  The Kindle is pretty neat.  The screen is easy to read, and I like the fact that I can adjust the font size so I don't need my reading glasses.  I'm certainly not giving up on paper books, though.  I still enjoy the experience of browsing though a book store or a public library, picking up the books, leafing through them, previewing them to see if I want to read them.  Yes, I know, you can do that online too, but it's not the same.

You'd think that participating in this challenge would make me want to expand my collection of books, but in fact it has had almost the opposite effect.  I quickly realized that if I bought every book that I read, I could easily wind-up spending $1000 dollars a year in books, not to mention the money I would spend on shelves to put them on, and a bigger place to live.  Therefore I go to the library once or twice a week to see if there's anything new and/or interesting to read.  Of course the first thing I wanted to know when I got my Kindle was, "Where are the free books?"  Amazon has some, but clearly wants to push you towards books you pay for.  I've been checking out FeedBooks and Gutenberg, and both look like they have some interesting stuff, although I don't know if FeedBooks just gets all their free stuff from Gutenberg.  My library has e-books to lend as well, but I haven't yet had a chance to explore this.  Given that I have a foot-high stack of physical book potential reads sitting on my desk, not to mention what's already in my Kindle, I'm not sure how soon I'm going to get to it.

After I've said all that, Amazon will be happy to know that the first full book I read on my Kindle is one I paid for, albeit not much.  On the Kindle site they had a special for Life of Pi by Yann Martel, for only 99 cents, which could possibly be less money than they had to pay to process my credit card transaction.  Serves 'em right for mucking up my Kindle with ads.  Anyway, on to the review.

Book 01 - Life of Pi - Yann Martel

This is the story of Piscene Molitor Patel, a very religious Indian boy, from a not very religious Hindu family, who is named after a Parisian swimming pool.  Pi is so religious that not one religion can contain him.  He is not content to be simply Hindu, so he decides to become a devout Catholic and a devout Muslim.  Not one right after the other, mind you, but simultaneously.  He goes to the Hindu temple, attends Catholic mass with communion on Sunday, and kneels on a prayer rug facing Mecca and offers his prayers to Allah five times a day.  Of course, everyone tells him he cannot be all three, he must choose one.  To this he simply asks, "Why?"

Pi's father owns a zoo in Pondicherry. a former French colony in India.  This is mid-seventies India, and Indira Gandhi's policies eventually lead the father to sell the zoo and move the family to Toronto, Canada, to start a new life.  After much wheeling and dealing, he manages to sell or trade-off all the animals.  Of course few of these transactions are local ones, as there are a limited number of zoos in the immediate vicinity that can absorb these animals, so when the family finally books passage to Canada on a cargo ship, they have many of the animals along with them, to be dropped off at various points along the way.

Not too far along on their journey, an unknown mishap causes the ship to sink, and Pi finds himself in one of the ship's lifeboats, seemingly the sole human survivor.  Note the emphasis on human.  Pi shares the lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a 450 pound Bengal tiger.  What follows is an incredible tale of survival.  Note the emphasis on incredible.  Pi survives 227 days at sea in a life boat with two predators and two other animals strong enough to kill him by accident.  He faces storms, starvation, lack of fresh water, and a mysterious island that holds a horrible secret, all while managing not to be eaten by the tiger.

In my opinion, the book gets off to a slow start.  It gets a little bogged down with all of Pi's religious explorations, as well as a bunch of seemingly disjointed information about the nature of animals in captivity vs. the wild.  Once Pi finds himself on the lifeboat though, this tiger tale becomes quite riveting.  Pi must battle nature on all fronts - if the elements don't kill him, the tiger will.

Although the tiger presents a constant lethal danger, Pi and the animal reach an uncomfortable detente.  The tiger is dependent on Pi for food and water, and Pi is strangely dependent on the presence of the beast to maintain the will to live.  Ultimately Pi finds that he cares deeply for this animal that could kill him at any moment.

Based on the emphasis on religion in the first part of the book, it wasn't too surprising that there is a religious moral to the story.  In order to believe Pi's incredible story, one must have faith, as his tale can be neither proven or dis-proven.  Once you buy into the story, one could argue that Pi's "miraculous" survival  is due to his actions and his will to live, rather than any special divine intervention.  On the other hand, one could argue that this strength and will to live comes from his faith.  Pi would probably be the first one to do so.


  1. Glad to see you going for it again. We received a Kindle for Christmas and the ad thing drove me crazy. I already have a nook so returned it. I don't do ads.

    I surprisingly liked Life of Pi. It was quite interesting once getting past the slow part. The time Pi spent on the boat just riveted me.

  2. I loved this book. I thought it had a lot of meaning to it and I liked that it wasn't obvious but you had to really question what was real and what wasn't.

    Nice review!

    (And I totally agree with you on the pushy ads everywhere anymore. They make me NOT want to buy whatever is being pushed at me!)

  3. I didn't delve into the possibility of Pi's story being allegorical in my review, mostly due to space considerations, but it's certainly another aspect of the book that makes it interesting.

  4. Thank you for sharing that. I have heard of the book and checked it out from the library once, but could not get into it, so I returned it. I think I will try it again though - it sounds interesting.

  5. Did you think that the tiger was a literal tiger? Or a human that was also shipwrecked?

  6. After hearing the alternate story involving humans, one of the men from the shipping company suggests that Pi might be the tiger. I guess it really depends which story you believe. In his alternate story, does Pi just retell his true animal story with humans, or is his animal story an allegorical account of what really happened with the humans (the alternate story). I'm trying to dance around this a little, because I don't want to give too much away to someone who might want to read the book.

  7. This book created quite a stir in our book club several years ago! Man, people loved it or hated it. I don't want to give away the ending, but one girl was giving it a 9 out of 10 until the ending. She consequently gave it a 1! Can you believe it.

    I was one of those who loved it despite how people interpreted the ending. It was creative and like no book I had ever read.

    Thanks for the review!

  8. I'd have to say that I liked it overall, but got bogged down at the beginning. I guess, I could see how the ending could upset some people, but personally, I liked the doubt that it introduced.