From the Publisher
Life of Pi is a masterful and utterly original
novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces
immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on
religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound.
Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven
a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means
to be alive, and to believe.
Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel -- known as
Pi -- has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad
knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all
literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works.
His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among
goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about
the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi's
family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him
and his parents aren't quite sure how to accept his decision to
simultaneously embrace and practise three religions --
Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.
But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi's world, there are
broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen his
parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life.
Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their
belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the
Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals,
bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun
their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel
family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat
with the unlikeliest of travelling companions: a zebra, an
orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named
Thus begins Pi Patel's epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and
the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of
Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between
hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food
chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the
tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his
survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets
upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker's
As the days pass, Pi fights both boredom and terror by throwing
himself into the practical details of surviving on the open sea --
catching fish, collecting rain water, protecting himself from the
sun -- all the while ensuring that the tiger is also kept alive,
and knows that Pi is the key to his survival. The castaways face
gruelling pain in their brushes with starvation, illness, and the
storms that lash the small boat, but there is also the solace of
beauty: the rainbow hues of a dorado's death-throes, the peaceful
eye of a looming whale, the shimmering blues of the ocean's swells.
Hope is fleeting, however, and despite adapting his religious
practices to his daily routine, Pi feels the constant, pressing
weight of despair. It is during the most hopeless and gruelling
days of his voyage that Pi whittles to the core of his beliefs,
casts off his own assumptions, and faces his underlying terrors
As Yann Martel has said in one interview, "The theme of this novel
can be summarized in three lines. Life is a story. You can choose
your story. And a story with an imaginative overlay is the better
story." And for Martel, the greatest imaginative overlay is
religion. "God is a shorthand for anything that is beyond the
material -- any greater pattern of meaning." In Life of
Pi, the question of stories, and of what stories to
believe, is front and centre from the beginning, when the author
tells us how he was led to Pi Patel and to this novel: in an Indian
coffee house, a gentleman told him, "I have a story that will make
you believe in God." And as this novel comes to its brilliant
conclusion, Pi shows us that the story with the imaginative overlay
is also the story that contains the most truth.
About the Author
Yann Martel was born in Spain in 1963 of peripatetic Canadian
parents. He grew up in Alaska, British Columbia, Costa Rica,
France, Ontario and Mexico, and has continued travelling as an
adult, spending time in Iran, Turkey and India. After studying
philosophy at Trent University and while doing various odd jobs --
tree planting, dishwashing, working as a security guard -- he began
to write. He is the prize-winning author of The Facts
Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, a collection of
short stories, and of Self, a novel, both of them
His latest book, Life of Pi, won the 2002 Man
Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Governor's General Award and is
an international bestseller. He has been living from his writing
since the age of 27. He divides his time between yoga, writing and
volunteering in a palliative care unit.
Yann Martel lives in Montreal.
1. As Pi's father says, when he is explaining the ferocity of
the zoo animals to his sons, "Life will defend itself no matter how
small it is." In what ways does Pi defend himself in this
2. With his stories about zoos and zoology, Pi teaches us that
the ability to adapt is crucial not only to animals but to humans,
and is rooted in the will to survive. How do Pi's theories of
zoo-keeping play out on the lifeboat? Does Pi go through a
transformation on his journey? What does he learn?
3. Our author discovers the story of Pi Patel after an elderly
man in an Indian coffee house tells him, "I have a story that will
make you believe in God." As a young man, Pi shocks his family and
local religious officials by embracing Christianity, Hinduism, and
Islam, and sees no reason to pick just one. And on the lifeboat, it
is God that Pi turns to in his despair. Discuss the role of
religion, and religious stories, in this novel.
4. When Pi meets with the Japanese officials at the end of his
journey and tells them his story, they do not believe him and ask
what really happened. Pi provides them with a new story, one of
"dry, yeastless factuality," without animals, and then asks which
one they prefer. Discuss the nature of storytelling and belief in
relation to Life of Pi, and to life.
5. "As for hearing, the sloth is not so much deaf as
uninterested in sound." "To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is
akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation." As a
story of death, loss, fear and destruction, Life of
Pi has at its heart a number of very tragic events.
However, one of the most pervasive elements of the novel is its
very matter-of-fact humour. Why do you think this is? What is the
effect on you, as a reader?
6. Near the end of Life of Pi, Pi and Richard
Parker come ashore on a free-floating island comprised entirely of
algae and inhabited only by many, many meerkats. Why does Pi decide
to leave the island? What is the significance of this story? Is
there a difference between survival and life?
7. Whereas the bulk of this novel is told by Pi Patel -- "in his
voice and through his eyes," our author tells us -- we also see the
current-day Pi through the eyes of the author, and read "excerpts
from the verbatim transcript" of the young Pi's interview with the
Japanese officials. Why? Discuss the effect of and possible reasons
for the narrative structure of this novel.
8. The Author's Note ends with a what seems to be a call to
arms: "If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we
sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end
up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams." In reviews of
Life of Pi, Yann Martel has been equally and
abundantly praised for his realism and his great imagination. Do
you see a conflict between these approaches to writing fiction?
What is the role of "truth" in fiction?
9. In Life of Pi we know Richard Parker to be a
450-pound Royal Bengal tiger mistakenly named after the hunter who
captured him, and Pi's companion during his seven months at sea.
But there are further nautical stories involving Richard Parkers,
outside of this book: Edgar Allan Poe's Richard Parker was eaten by
his shipmates in the novel The Adventures of Arthur Gordon
Pym, a real-life cabin boy named Richard Parker was eaten
by his fellow castaways after the sinking of the
Mignonette in the 1870s, and so on. Who is Richard Parker?
Why might Yann Martel have chosen the name Richard Parker for this
tiger, and this novel? Discuss the importance of names, and naming,
in Life of Pi.