Life of Pi – Yann Martel

October 27, 2010 § 5 Comments

The reason death sticks so closely to life isn’t biological necessity – it’s envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can.

There are some books that you have to plunge into without the slightest clue as to what the book is all about. And there are some books, I feel, that would do much better if the reader, in this case, myself, had in the beginning, some form of understanding as to what can be expected from reading it. This is one of those super-rare times when I wished I had read the blurb at the back of the book before diving straight into it.

It’s not to say the book was awful, or that I think it completely lost the plot, but it did have be confused for a fair bit of the book. I would probably have been less confused, and much more entertained, had I known right from the beginning that the story, in its entirety, is about this young Indian boy being stuck on a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, and orang-utan, and an adult Bengal tiger.

I don’t know for how long I held on to the assumption that all this was just a prologue to something else. I kept on thinking that they would see land soon, and the story would take off from there. Little did I know that Pi (that’s the Indian boy’s name) would not see land until the end of the story.

I think I was halfway through the book when I finally gave up, and turned the book to read its blurb. Believe me, my eyes widened in something that equates to disbelief. All I had going through my head at that point was, “So THAT’S what the story is about?!”

I guess in a way, I quite liked the real prologue to the story, the part where Pi is still firmly on ground and talking about religion and zoos. Perhaps that’s what led me to believe that there would be more than just floating in the Pacific.

There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, “Business as usual.” But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.

These people fail to realise that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defence, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.

Once I got into the flow of the book, knowing now that the story is about the lifeboat and the boy and the tiger, I was less caught up with thinking, “So what’s going to happen next?” and instead concentrated on the pictures that Martel painted, of the skies and the seas and the Bengal Tiger. Which, in all honesty, was quite compelling.

There were many skies. The sky was invaded by great white clouds, flat on the bottom but round and billowy on top. The sky was completely cloudless, of a blue quite shattering to the senses. The sky was a heavy, suffocating blanket of grey cloud, but without promise of rain. The sky was thinly overcast. …

There were many seas. The sea roared like a tiger. The sea whispered in your ear like a friend telling you secrets. The sea clinked like small change in a pocket. The sea thundered like avalanches. …

Judging by the number of pages I tagged (with blue Post-Its), I would say that I quite enjoyed the writing, the prose, the flow of the language. I wasn’t captured by the plot or story itself, but it was definitely enjoyable even if just for the writing alone.

Why do people move? What makes them uproot and leave everything they’ve known for a great unknown beyond the horizon? Why climb this Mount Everest of formalities that makes you feel like a beggar? Why enter this jungle of foreignness where everything is new, strange and difficult?

The answer is the same the world over: people move in the hope of a better life.


Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.


All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species can survive.


I must say one word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always.

Rating: 3.5


§ 5 Responses to Life of Pi – Yann Martel

  • mee says:

    Su I found your thoughts very interesting! Life of Pi was one of the first few English novels that I read back in 2003, pre-blogging days. I don’t know where I knew about it, but I borrowed it from the library knowing absolutely nothing about it. Moreover, the copy I read was a hardcover that has lost its dust jacket, so I didn’t even see the cover or the blurb at the back. (I don’t remember having seen the cover on the internet too at the time. I thought the cover with the boat and the tiger above kinda spoils the content of the book.)

    I just started reading English novels so I didn’t pay much attention to the so-called writing. The story was the one that really grabbed me from beginning to end. I had not started reading any kind of book blogs or reviews, so my opinion of it was really pure, so to speak, and I had no expectation whatsoever. Ended up loving the book.

    In any way, so interesting that we thought the complete opposite on both points!

    ps: Love your turtle soft toy 😀

    • Michelle says:

      It’s always interesting to see how different people react to the same book, isn’t it? Sometimes I wonder if I might have enjoyed the book a lot more had I read it at a different time. This time, the pace was just a little too slow for me, which might have been because I was a little pre-occupied with what was happening in real life.

      Ah well, win some lose some.

      PS: I thought the soft toy went well, seeing as to how much they “feature” in the story.

  • chasing bawa says:

    I actually didn’t want to read this book for a long time because of the blurb as I’m not crazy about animals in fiction and thought this was going to be a very long fable. However when I did read it, it was so different from my expectations that I loved it. Strange, isn’t it? There was a lot of history and philosophy in it and I learned lots of things about Pondicherry which I knew nothing about:) It’s an interesting point you make about expectations/reading experience. I find that that with each book the balance is different.

    • Michelle says:

      You’re definitely right about the balance being different with each book. For some, it’s just better to go in not knowing anything, and coming out of it feeling completely refreshed. Others, it’s just better for me to know a little, get a rough idea about what kind of story to expect.

  • Nishita says:

    When I found out that this was a book about a boy from Pondicherry, I had to read this book. My grandparents are from there. But, once I completed reading it, I loved it for its own worth. I especially loved the ending!

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