I have been meaning to read Life of Pi by Yann Martel for quite some time and finally got the chance to pick it up at the library. It was very different from what I expected. A number of friends had read it and recommended it but I had gotten the impression that it was a “religious” book. I really don’t see it that way at all.
I learned of a different perspective of looking at a zoo. Most people think of animals in zoos as captives, away from their natural habitats, unable to live their lives as they were meant to. Actually I think zoos are better. The animals are protected from the elements and from predators. They do not have to travel huge distances at great peril to find mates. They have a home that mimics their natural environment and they do not have to hunt for food or water. If animals can be happy, they are happy in zoos.
Anyway, Life of Pi tells the story of young Piscine Molitor Patel who lives in Pondicherry, India. His father is a zookeeper and Pi loves to visit with the animals. Pi is teased constantly for his name and suffers for it until he asserts himself and wants to be known as “Pi.” He is also curious about religion and explores Catholicism, Hinduism and Muslim. He embraces all three, much to everyone’s dismay. He insists upon being baptised and having a prayer rug.
When Pi is sixteen, his father must sell the zoo and the family prepares to move to Canada. It is said that “people move in the hope of a better life.” The animals are sold to a number of different zoos in many countries and some will travel on the Japanese ship,Tsimtsum, with Pi and his family as they venture to America.
“Things didn’t turn out the way they were supposed to, but what can you do? You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.” An explosion sinks the boat four days out from Manila and Pi is fortunate to be the sole human survivor on one of the ship’s lifeboats. I say human because Pi discovers that he is not alone. His parents, brother, Ravi, the Japanese crew and everyone else are all gone. However, Richard Parker, the three-year-old Bengal tiger, a zebra, a spotted hyena, and Orange Juice the female Borneo orangutan share his tight quarters. Not for long. The tiger massacres the animals, one by one, as days turn into weeks and months.
Pi struggles to survive but is incredibly ingenious when it comes to how to do it. He discovers emergency rations and a survival manual. He builds a raft, learns to fish and desalinates the sea water. He becomes zookeeper over Richard Parker and trains him. The uneasy relationship continues until both are almost dead from hunger, exposure and thirst.
Eventually they make it to the coast of Mexico. Richard Parker runs off and Pi is rescued. No one believes his fantastic story.
The book is easy to read and it’s interesting to learn about another culture. It makes you think.