Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Life of Pi by Yann Martel: Impressions

Long before the (apparently) brilliant film was made, long before everyone was talking about Yann Martel like he was their friend from next door, my then boyfriend had recommended I read 'Life of Pi'. Of course, I didn't. But when the Universe brought me a recommendation this second time around, I decided to. And WHAT.A.BOOK! Yann Martel owns you with his dazzling writing through the 319 odd pages of the book with effortless, photographic writing, making the reading of this book no less of an experience than watching a 3D film on a 70mm screen.

'Life of Pi' is a wonderful, whimsical story about Piscine Molitor Patel - 'known to all as Pi Patel' - and his journey across the Pacific on a lifeboat with a tiger! The 16-year-old protagonist thinks he is the sole survivor of a sunken ship, until he finds himself aboard with four animals from his father's zoo - a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and Richard Parker, the Royal Bengal Tiger. The other three animals get eaten and Pi is left alone on the lifeboat with the tiger. The story proceeds to tell us how he survives the endless Pacific, keeping the tiger and his sanity alive for more than 200 days. Teetering of the edge of life and death, Pi learns the many secrets of animal life, in a bid to survive among them.

Parable-like, 'The Pacific' is the second and the largest section of the book that talk about Pi's life at sea. It is here that the meat (and a lot of astounding special effects in case of the movie) of the story lies. However, my personal favourite is the first part of the book, which is called 'Toronto and Pondicherry'. This part is about the teenager's life before the wreckage, and his finding a love for God in all religions. Martel slips in simple, insightful messages about harmony in religions, about finding divine comfort in small places and things like prayer rugs or church bells or incense sticks. This part also talks about the nature of animals, within and outside of zoos, and the author's thorough research throws delightful little tidbits of information your way, without ever preaching.

The third and last part of the story 'Mexico' is when Pi washes aboard the Mexican town of Tomatlan, parts ways with Richard Parker and returns to human habitation. The most striking part of this section is Pi's retelling of his story to two Japanese officers, who refuse to believe that Pi lived and survived with wild animals on board. Martel, through Pi, substitutes the animals with human characters and recounts his tale, leaving the reader wondering if the story was a parable all along.

'Life of Pi' is a fantastic book, and one page after another, you realise why the work won the Booker, so much acclamation, and a place in cinematic history. Readers of all kinds and ages will find this book appealing for its simplicity, brilliance and unforgettable story. It is definitely going into my 'ask-son-to-read' list of books.


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