Book Review: The Life of Pi

When we were roommates, my friend developed this habit of buying Booker Prize winning books.    It started with The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize in 1997.  It was followed by Amsterdam, Disgrace and the Blind Assassin - the winners in subsequent years.

We moved to our own homes in 2000.  I guess my friend still buys Booker Prize winners.

The Life of Pi won the Booker Prize in 2002.  It would not have received any attention but for the release of a movie based on it a few weeks back.  With the movie winning critical acclaim for its director Ang Lee and being tauted as Oscar contender, I was keen to read the book, before I saw the movie.  No matter, how faithful a movie director is to the book that his movie is based, there are many things that written words can portray that cannot be done in a movie!

I have not seen The Life of Pi movie yet, so the review is only about the book.

The plot is simple.  There is the protagonist, whose nick name is Pi.  His father runs a zoo in Pondicherry. He knows a lot about animals and animal psychology from his father as well as from watching the animals in the zoo.  The family decides to relocate to Canada.  They sell some of the animals and take the remaining along with them in a ship.

Pi is shipwrecked and finds himself in a lifeboat.  To his horror, he sees a large Bengal tiger swimming upto the life boat.  There is a hyena and a zebra in the lifeboat as well.

The rest of the story is about how Pi survives 200 odd days in the Pacific Ocean, with just the tiger for company.  Pi uses his knowledge of animals as well as his faith in all the religions (hindu, christianity and islam) to not just outwit the tiger, but also ensure he does not die of hunger or thirst.  His faith is threatened occasionally during adversities like storm and lack of food, but prevails in the end.

The story is told as a flashback as narrated by Pi to the author.

While the plot is simple, it has been handled very nicely by the author.  At the end of the book, you wonder what exactly happened, especially since Pi narrates an alternate version when prompted by the policemen while interrogation.  There are also a lot of interesting insights into animal psychology, like why ringmaster first steps into the ring or why animals are not necessarily unhappy in zoo.

While parts of the book can become monotonous when it dwells into faith and philosophy, overall the book makes an interesting reading.

I am now looking forward to watching the movie.