an artful readers club blog

Life of Pi Book Review

"I awoke to the reality of Richard leave the lifeboat meant certain death. But what was staying aboard?"

Do you believe in stories? In God? In an afterlife? What life experiences do you rely on when you read an author’s words?

An excellent book lingers in the mind. After I finished Life of Pi  I found myself searching its pages for verification in sudden insights. That happened often, over many days. I kept returning to three sentences. “The world isn’t just the way it is. It’s how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, is a tale about storytelling—how to write or tell a story—the hero’s journey, the suspension of belief, and the weight words can carry. It’s a universal tale, man versus self and man versus nature with calls to the Universe, gods, for help and answers. The book questions belief. What do humans believe when the ark we were on disappears and we’re left alone, floating in the middle of an ocean? Who answers prayers when you’re the only soul left? Is there an afterlife?

The novel is layered with depths of meaning. It’s rich in symbolism. It’s about life as a zookeeper. It’s an adventure story. It’s a quest. It’s a pilgrimage. It’s a parable. And, it’s a story about God, which is how the tale begins.

Martel tells his tale in three parts, in classic structure, with the beginning, middle and end divided into clear sections.

Section one happens on land and sets up the foreshadowing between improbable, unnatural relationships that have occurred in nature—unusual friendships or relationships between naturally occurring foes—prey and predator. Prey and predator, a motif and play on words: prey the animal and pray, what humans resort to when faced with impossible situations.

Pi Patel contemplates three of the world’s major religions and their core beliefs:

Hindu, where “the individual soul touches upon the world soul like a well reaches for the water table. That which sustains the universe beyond thought and language, and that which is at the core of us and struggles for expression. …this is clear: … it travels in this life on a pilgrimage where it is born and dies, and is born again and dies again, and again, until it manages to shed the sheaths that imprison it here below. Where…each of us is credited or debited depending on our actions.” (48, 49)

Christianity, “Their religion had one Story, and to it they came back again, and again, over and over. It was story enough for them. … It’s a god on a human scale. … What could justify such divine stinginess? Love, repeated Father Martin.” (55, 56)

Islam, where Pi states, “I challenge anyone to understand Islam, its spirit, and not to love it. It’s a beautiful religion of brotherhood and devotion. (61)

Pi also contemplates atheism with Mr. Kumar, one of his teachers. “There are no grounds for going beyond scientific explanation of reality and no sound reason for believing anything but our sense experience. A clear intellect, close attention to detail, and a little scientific knowledge will expose religion as superstitious bosh. God does not exist.” (27)

By page 63, Pi’s decided. “The presence of God is the finest of rewards.”

In section two, Pi’s journey starts and where most of the story occurs. The family and its zoo animals are en route to Winnipeg, Canada on an ocean freighter. During the night the freighter sinks and Pi is the sole survivor in a lifeboat with a zebra with a broken leg, a hyena, an Orang-utan named Orange Juice, and a tiger named Richard Parker.

Section three, I’m leaving for you to read and decide, leaving you to bring your interpretations and experiences into the Pi’s story world.

It’s a book worth reading at least twice. My hope is you’ll read it before watching the movie so you’ll have a pure experience in reading the narrative. You’ll find yourself, I believe, contemplating your own conclusions and musings. It’s that good a read.


18 Responses to “Life of Pi Book Review”

  1. Sarah (Flo)

    I read this book a while ago and loved it, I am glad you enjoyed it too. LOVE your clever touch with the pi symbol made from Richard Parker’s stripes 🙂

  2. San @ Made in Hem

    Hm, it’s something I’m always wondering… Is there a God/Allah/whatever name you give Him? And with me never going to a church because I’m not raised to believe in anything, is there hope for after death… I might have to read this book! 😀
    I like your Art, I don’t know the book but think I saw something with a tiger somewhere… Maybe I’m very wrong but it still does remind me of a tiger! 😀

  3. gshillitani

    I’ve not read this book (or seen the movie that’s out now) and it sounds like its not really my cup of tea. I love your art though, and the Pi symbol in the tiger stripes!

  4. Cindy Wolf

    I almost put this book on my list to read but had too many others I wanted to read first. Great review…..but I love your artwork, goes very well with the book.

  5. darcy

    love your tiger image.. i started reading the ebook, but found very quickly that i do not like ebooks, so stopped reading it and then promptly forgot to buy the ‘real’ book. in the meantime i watched the film, thinking it will be mediocre, they always are… but omg the film was mesmerising, truly beautiful…and has inspired me to go back and read the book.

  6. Jenny

    I really think I would love this book… thank you for a fabulous review… have added it to my wishlist… and lovely art page…

    Jenny ♥

  7. P.J.

    This is a book I’ve had on my list for a while. Not sure why I haven’t bought it yet. But your review makes me want to push it up on my wish list a little higher and read it sooner, rather than later.

    And nice work with the art! 😀

  8. manon

    Another interesting book I would like to read hmmmm this is going to be a costly bussiness for me travelling round all these blogs. Nice art work.

  9. Janet Van Rossen

    I have enjoyed reading your review and it makes me want to try this book out. I didn’t think it would appeal but I am not so sure now. Lovely tiger skin.

    Janet xx

  10. Leialoha

    Thank you for this great review…I am looking forward to seeing the film because I like comparing the original novel to the screenplay/movie. Life of Pi is now on my list…brilliant details of the tiger skin!

  11. Gina

    Sounds a fascinating book, and your tiger skin is beautiful…in a sad sort of way. Well done! 😀 XXX

  12. Ali

    This is one of the books on my all time list of favourites! As you say you travel back to it and contemplate for some time after finishing reading. I loved Yann Mantel’s writing. You art work is wonderful too!

  13. Susan Foulkes

    A fabulous review. I’m ashamed to say my copy of this went to a charity shop as I really couldn’t get into it – perhaps I’ll try again with a different perspective.
    Your artwork complements the book perfectly.
    Hugs xx

  14. shirley

    Your artwork is so perfect for the book, I read it quite a while ago and completely agree with you on needing to go back and reread some of the passages. It is certainly thought provoking.

  15. Maz H

    Although I have this book on my shelf (but not part of this challenge) I’ve never really felt in the mood to read it. On reflection, I’m not sure I’d enjoy it but maybe one day I’ll try to read it anyway. Your artwork is great though and fits what I know of the book perfectly.

  16. Diane

    Wow, what a fabulous review. I read this book as part of my neighborhood book group and now I want to re-read it. The quote, “And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no?” made me realize that I have had events happen in my life since I first read it that will now impact my understanding of the story on a different level. I use Goodreads as well, to track my reading and will send you a friend request. I love getting ideas for books from others and noticed that there are several on your reading list that look interesting. Can’t wait to see your future reviews.

  17. Jenny Pearson

    Great review, I have read and greatly enjoyed this book. Looking forward to seeing the movie to compare.
    Jen x


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