Pi Patel is headed to Canada with his mother, father, and brother; and an entire zoo’s worth of animals. But when their ship, the Timtsim, sinks for no apparent reason, Pi is left by himself on a twenty-six foot lifeboat: with a full-grown Bengal tiger. The tiger (named Richard Parker) kills the other animals on the lifeboat, and Pi is left alone with him.
The book tells Pi’s survival story: how he survived for almost a year on the lifeboat with a tiger. It tells of his struggles with the tiger and how Pi gradually trains the tiger, so that even if they are not the best of friends, they are surviving together. Pi tells the story of his bizarre encounters with another castaway, and his brush with a carnivorous island.
The book ends with Pi’s return to civilization, and an interview with two officials from the shipping company that owned the Timtsim, who are attempting to discover the reasons behind the ship’s sinking. Pi tells them the entire story, and in one sharp twist, the entire book is changed; for it asks a question that cannot be answered and torments the reader’s mind for days afterwards. This twist ranks in my mind as one of the best philosophical questions in literature. But you’ll have to read the book to be asked the question.
Of course, Life of Pi isn’t without its faults. Pi embraces a very humanistic, all-roads-lead-to-the-same-place viewpoint that enables him to cry out to Allah, Jehovah, and all of the Hindu gods in one breath. The priest, imam, and Hindu priest are seen as narrow-minded because they refuse to accept that one can follow all three of their religions: they are contradictory, after all. But Pi continues in his religious mix throughout the novel.
Overall, this is a fantastic novel. I’ve been looking to read it since the film came out, and now that I have, the film is next on my list. This is an excellent book that delivers more than just a good survival story: it asks piercing questions about humanity and who we are. Even if a few of its answers about religion are off the mark, I highly recommend this book.