Piscine Molitor Patel, named after a French swimming pool is a zookeeper’s son in the picturesque town of Pondicherry.
The young Pi sounds too old to be true, but then again the story often strains to a point beyond credulity. The crux of this novel for me was Pi's question to the effect of "there are two versions of this story, and one is much more interesting than the other. What I really enjoyed was the beginning of the book and Pi's innocent exploration of religion. I think the end of the book brilliantly tied in the beginning of the book with the investigation and the two agents who couldn't believe what they could not see.
So, I think we can conclude that, yes, he did consider staying there forever because it had food, fresh water and shelter. Some time ago, my daughter found this animated short film made by clay creates who discuss the pros and cons of zoo-life.
But now that all of you--people whose opinions I trust and respect--have expressed an almost universal admiration for this book, I am convinced it is worth a read. Like Len, I think that the crux of the whole novel lies in the daring twist in the tail of the story. Unlike Len, however, I think this goes a lot deeper than simply opting for a more attractive story that is to be preferred over nasty facts.
For me there is little doubt that the 'alternative' version Pi tells to the Japanese is the factual version of events. And isn't this what great literature should do: teach us about life by means of a great story? As I agree totally with everything you say that follows, perhaps I was too succinct in my summary of what I thought was the essential point (not the total content) of the novel.
The story gets more and more unbelievable as it progresses, just as it would if it were the product of a starved, dehydrated castaway. I wish there were floating acid seaweed islands with lots of meercats, because I like meercats. On a related note, the island thing ties back to the idea of faith - of believing in something even though it's incredible or has not evidence to support it.
I dunno 'bout Sowse Afriker (as my South African in-laws call it) But San Francisco Zoo has an awesome Meercat colony.
For me, this episode was the one really weak part of the book, and in my view could easily have been omitted without detriment. The raft story began with minutely realistic, completely feasible details, but then move slowly to the questionable (a blind French sailor HAPPENS to float by in a raft in the Pacific?), then to the outright fantastic (a carnivorous island). In essense, what allows us to adopt religion is a selective suspension of disbelief which we call faith.
Because of his insistence on having Faith (singular, capital F, universal, one-size-fits-all), Pi got in trouble with the priest, rabbi and pandit. Religious leaders, most involved in the faith of their religion, are also the most limited in interpretation. I think the end (which story to believe) illustrates also the choice we have between having faith and not having faith. The idea of using fantastical elements appreared a bit to me like Marquez's magical realism - a good thing, it made me like the book more. All in all, I think that this story was entertaining, though it might have spoken to me more were I a religious person. Although that may be true for Christianity, I'm not sure if those are universal requirements for all religions. I'm not a religious person myself, but I do find the discussion (NOT the preaching) of religion fascinating. A discussion about religion is also a discussion about atheism because they are separate faces on the same coin.
An atheist (greatly simplified here, but nonetheless accurate I think) is someone who places their faith in the belief that God does not exist. As some of you are aware, I went to a Yann Martel reading and discussion evening on the 23rd of April, and I will report a bit on it here, in reference to the book itself.
First of all, Yann was extremely interesting, very humble, gracious, very patient with everyone's sometimes silly questions, and he had big hair. Hanh's comments corroborate near exactly with what Yann was saying about his narrative strategy. Yann did all of this because he believes that a good novel makes you suspend your disbelief. He said that he chose the number 227 because it is a prime number, divisible by only one and itself. Yann said that he has had to address numerous inquiries (from women) asking him if this story is a metaphor for marriage. All of these women tell him that Pi's relationship with Richard Parker reflects their own relationships with their husband. In all seriousness, Yann's American editor told him that two women have found the courage to leave their husbands after reading the book. As a devout atheist, I'd like to make it clear that I do not believe that transcendance requires faith. Andrew my dear, ga je schamen en lees het boek net zo vaak tot je het ook vijf sterren waard vindt!
Boyen addresses the fundamental question of why we are willing and able to selectively suspend disbelief, and why religious beliefs are held so tenaciously. No, believe it or not, the guy's a countryman of yours (we don't have born-again Christians in Europe as far as I know) and still at large. Born-again fundamentalism is one of the things that most impressed de Tocqueville on his visits to the young American Republic. In the pianistic world you have the really virtuosic pianists who seem to be able to play anything with their fingers in their noses. Sea stories, when good, usually pitch Man against destiny, fate, the forces of nature, and ultimately, with his innermost beliefs, strengths, weaknesses and God. So the religious background and the Zoo bakcground become indispensable to fully grasping the meaning of the story as well as you can. The carnivorous acidic seaweed island -or whatever Moana called it- episode just seemed to me a magical building up of an incredible voyage. Let me tell you a story: When I was a child, my father told me that the day I was born (end of April) the garden was full of tulips. I had told my daughter a very interesting story about Ravel and his Bolero: One day, Ravel and his cool musician friends are chatting. So, the next time Christopher comes for a piano lesson, my daughter, very excitedly, recounts this new piece of trivia she has learned about Bolero. Anyway, for the record: Bolero didn't come about because of a bet between Ravel and one of his buddies. Ravel was in the South of France (Basque region) driving in the car with one of his buddies on a summer's day who informed him that his newest contract to write ballet music for the Paris Opera was in fact being financed by a passionate music lover who was also a prominent member of the New York mafia. Gaspard begged Ravel to forgive him: that he felt that it would have been out of line to speak about such a thing without having been spoken to. Ravel's Bolero, yes you probably guessed it, had nothing to do with the mafia and American manservants named Gaspard. Commissioned by Ida Rubinstein for the Paris Opera, the Bolero was scheduled to be performed at the very beginning of the artistic season.
He didn't want to upset one of his most faithful patrons, so he came up with this idea about the melody and the repeated bolero rhythm.
Yes, it's a better *story*, but it's not believable, and its appeal doesn't make it any more believable. I have heard this described a slightly different way, that some pianists have such a facile way with the music that they almost trivialize its difficulty or intensity, gutting it of its grandeur. One of the first comments made by a member of our group was very much like the comment made by Guillermo Maynez here, who wrote, "But I must confess I was deeply disturbed by the parallel story told at the end.
Just an example, take the chapter of the floating island, which was also of much interest to our book club.
There are so many other facets of the book to discuss once the symbolic nature of story is explored. And Pi is stuck in the middle of the ocean with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker, an orang-utan, a zebra and a hyena.
But it has not started and now I have to communicate to you that tomorrow morning I am leaving on a short vacation to Puerto Vallarta, just 100 miles North of where Pi landed.
I will need to marshall a few quotes to support my observations, but in general I really enjoyed this book.


I am deeply troubled by the clear trend in our culture to judge truth by its appeal rather than its objective reality. He saw nothing wrong with taking the best from each religion yet the religious leaders when they all met insisted he choose.
For me that was not unbeliveable but what I wondered was had the island not been a danger in the evenings, could I have stayed forever. I even think it might have actually deserved the Booker-prize (not having read the other short-listed books). If any of you have not seen The Wrong Trousers, run out right now to the nearest video store and rent it!
But providing us with these details is also an extremely clever way of the author to make us believe in Pi as a hardheaded factual storyteller who gives us the unadorned truth without leaving anything out - only to challenge this belief at the very end!
Martel has given us a very good pointer with the island, which is such a glaring departure from the starkly realistic goings-on so far that it tests our faith as believers in Pi's story to the limit.
On the contrary, I am sure that most of you will agree with me the story with the tiger in it is and remains an incredibly forceful one. Had Martel simply wanted to make that point in an unadorned fashion, he didn't have to write anywhere near as much stunning prose as he did; he could have done it in a short essay. Many details recounted in most Story of Origins are historical and have been revealed through modern archeology. Because religion is beneficial to us (gives us hope, peace), we choose the faith which makes it possible for us to believe AND to live in a rational world. But, these are the people on whom believers depend to interpret their beliefs, hence the perpetuation of the established norm. Therefore, they choose to have faith in an afterlife, and all the related paraphenalia that go with that story. I agree with your analysis of the progression of real to nonsensical in the story, but I cannot say that the same holds for faith-based texts. But if it was not read literally, figuratively, the Genesis story of Creation can contain in its symbolism the story of the Big Bang.
There are archeologically supported evidence for many situations and personages mentioned in the holy writs of the major religions.
I do not profess to be a religious scholar in any way, but I think that in some fundamentalist traditions (e.g.
Right up to the end there was this sense that the big guy's initials could have stood for Really Powerful as much as for Richard Parker.
During the introduction, someone's cell phone directly behind me went into something not unlike the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in high gear.
He said that his aim was to tell a story that was progressively (increasingly) unbelievable.
It's a tremendous joy to read, and not only because I'm really glad for the confirmation that I could see what the author intended, your description of Yann Martel is wonderful!
The use of the word devout to describe oneself as an atheist is used often as a subtle reference to the connotation of religious devotion, meant to be ironic and humorous. Shipwrecks was on a consistent level that I could handle - even though I stopped and started it three times. I figure if he sticks to urban areas where hunting is not permitted, he may live to be born-again yet again! He remarked on two traits he observed here: that most americans suffered from some sort of religious insanity, and that we drank more booze than people in any other place he had ever visited. What is most marvelous about them is the outstanding ease and confidence they exude, the casualness with which they can execute the most demanding musical passages. He is incredibly virtuosic but his performance made me feel that there was something vacant or hollow at the core of his effort. To be stranded in the sea really confronts you with some serious questions, suffering, and plenty of time to think about them if you do not drown right away, in which case there is no story.
Th bipolar situation against the tiger and the sheer terror it corrrectly inspires in Pi is an added element in the all-by-itself terrible confrontation with nature at its most desolate and indifferent: the high seas.
It reminded me a lot of Arthur Gordon Pym, a book which has almost the same structure as Life of Pi: general background of the hero, a believable set of misfortunes, and then very strange incredible and horrible things happening. I want to believe the tiger story, but then there will always be this other one, more prosaic and more believable. Ravel makes a claim that he can write a piece of music in which he will sustain the same melody for 15 minutes.
We are often in the unfortunate position of having to point out the differences between legend and truth, myth and reality. Little did Ravel know that the American man servant that he had met and hired on his trip to America (where Ravel had met Gershwin) and who was practically a regular member of Ravel's household at Monfort L'Amaury was actually a cousin of this mafia kingpin. Gaspard told Ravel that he knew about his cousin and the money he was using to finance the ballet music.
Ravel, while travelling in the South of France, learned with surprise that this was the case. One woman, living in the South of France, is the sole heir to all the rights to Ravel's music. That's one of the mixed blessings of the human mind, the ability to enjoy or appreciate something that is unbelievable, or at least simply untrue.
The truly great pianists communicate a sense of the difficulty without deing defeated by it; they don't make mistakes but you can tell that what's being said is not trivial. Our group had a very interesting discussion, for example, about why the second story seemed so brutal and grotesque whereas the original story, which contained the animal characters, seemed less so. This is main part of the book at Pi highlights his 227 days of survival at sea with the help of a humble survival kit and the sense of animals that Pi has acquired over the years. Here, we see the Pi is torn. Questions like, are the sky and sea wonderous creations of God or are they just simply sea and sky?
Since they have all read the book, they discuss it freely - including it's twists, turns, and the ending. I'll miss your comments and certainly I'll be very much aware of facing an old tiger who got lost in the vicinity 15 years ago. As I said elsewhere, for the most part I was there with Pi, until the floating vegetable island overrun with meerkats.
Decision making (in the most general sense) based on such a definition of truth can only lead to unexpected, unintended, and often adverse consequences. The idea of an animal populace on a lifeboat somehow stabilizing into the equilibrium it did was the most interesting part, to me.
I admit, I was a little skeptical when I heard all the talk about how reading it would change your life and all that stuff; to me it sounded like more of a Self-Help book than anything else.
The island clearly can't be part of the actual world, it belongs to the realm of myth, reminiscent (by the way) of the wanderings of Ulysses.
By hinting that it is not a literal version of the facts, the author forces us to reexamine everyting we have read so far and to ponder Pi's motives for relating his experiences in this manner. I don't believe I'll ever be able to use that phrase in an appropriate context for the rest of my life, so there it is.
This illustrates the point that, similar to religion, each story has believable and unbelievable elmements. Which Story we choose to believe was a decision made initially for us or by us, at some point in our past.
The fantastic, unprovable, non-scientific elements (resurrection of the dead, the virgin birth, heaven, hell) remain the domains of faith. Analogously, atheists are the people who choose not to believe in the unprovable, even if the story is bad. I myself couldn't get past the first part of Genesis where light is created before the stars, or any other matter that could possibly emit photons or even radiation in a non-visible wavelength.
It seems to me that the preaching that all other religions are wrong would get on my nerves if I had to listen to it from all sides all the time.
There are geological evidence of a massive flood in ancient times which may account for stories of the Flood appearing in the holy books of different religions. He did not see the difference between those houses of worship because he thought that God is universal. The statement I made does not refer specifically to Pi, but in general to the benefit religion offers to many people (hence its attraction, hence people's election to have faith).
The selection or denial of religion defines our outlook fundamentally, probably more than anything else.
Then, he was going to be a rhinoceros (because Yann said the rhinoceros has the most wonderful eyes of any beast). The name also appears three times in several supposed real-life histories of cannibalism on the high seas.


I WISH I were there, but alas the only culture I enjoy around here are rodeos and BBQ-bakes. Matthew's Passion", and who studied medieval art (which is pr ctically exclusively religious) at university. I would not say his book is brilliant, it lacks some of the necessary depth for that, but it nevertheless provides a good insight into people's need for religion and it is an excellent read without being shallow. Bush's Compassionately Conservative America, such people can be hunted without regard to season or the necessity of taking a county hunting license.
I'm honoured to have been the dedicatee of even one word of such a brilliant analysis (indeed, it was an oneiric moment to imagine myself as Stephen for a while – Lale's correction brought me swiftly back to earth!). Then you have others, more rare, who are equally talented from a virtuosic standpoint, however their virtuosity is not the most obvious characteristic of their interpretative performance. I'm interested to see if he'll be able to get beyond the stardust now and rise to a higher realm where only few have the honour to pass their time.
So I think it was very good that Martel gave us a full background of Pi's heterodox religious practices and beliefs before sending him out to a shipwreck (we seem to be full of shipwrecks these days).
So Pi's every resource, physical, mental and emotional, is put to an utmost test by loneliness, desolation, the Pacific Ocean and a Bengal tiger. I'm sorry I read that part, for I would have liked to stay with the first one as the only one. Ravel, upon learning this bit of gossip, returned at once to his home in Monfort-L'Amaury to question his servant about his involvement in the Parisian premiere. I think that's an important corollary of this fable, that these two concepts (appeal and veracity) are not only separable, but, as we say in the mathematics business, orthogonal. Yet, it's the second story that ultimately opened up the first story for me in a most amazing way. But if we view it as part of a fable or symbolic universe, then the island is a sort of metaphor: an apparently safe place where our tiger selves (that is, our fierce, instinctual, physical selves) would stay forever, well satiated, if our other rational or spiritual selves didn't recognize the dangers and force it to leave.
This led into a debate over our feelings about animal versus human behaviors and our attitudes toward those behaviors. I think that ultimately he was giving a gift to his readers: the chance to more deeply appreciate the wondrous, multifaceted, inexplicable nature of the universe, as experienced by so many of us traveling uncomfortably yet gratefully with our personal tigers. Is the big brute beast Richard Parker simply that or does this animal too have feelings and attachments? Reality is sufficiently bizarre that we need not believe in (as opposed to imagine and enjoy as such) fantasies. I had made a mental note of that and sure enough later on it tied in with the second version of the story. I still believe the animals, especially the large and wild ones should be left on their own, in the wild. Neither am I a religious person; my conviction is that when you die that's the end of it for you.
In hindsight it is a very strong hint that the rest of Pi's story also belongs to the realm of myth.
It is not that they are without faith, but they are without the faith proper for that religion.
Believers reject the idea of a single Faith which leads to all religions, because it cannot explain the particular Story of Origin which they have adopted. Therefore, religion and faith are both useful if and only if they make life on earth kinder, happier, and less hurtful. Some biblical stories are supported by the writings of ancient historians (for example: Josephus). To Pi, Faith would lead to God--universal, non-compartmentalized--he had the perfect universal Faith, in a way.
In those traditions, man, his happiness, his being, are of no consequence when compared to the glory of God. It seemed to have been written with such ease that one can only imagine the pains Yann Martel must have gone through in order to cultivate and maintain such a high level of literary style.
They have something else, that extra thing, the thing that gives you goose flesh, that captivates you with a simple gesture, that has you riveted without knowing why. I gladly read the long pages about Pi's endeavours to survive, and of course I was reminded of a modern day Robinson Crusoe -another shipwreck story with deep and resonant religious themes and overtones- confined to an even smaller refuge. All my apologies to you and particularly Ozlem – however, I think that she will concur that I wasn't that hard of teacher! To believe that a story's appeal implies anything about its truth is to make an unwarranted inference. I listen to the Missa Solemnis precisely because I wish to be struck dumb in awe of its grandeur, made small and humble in its presence.
Without the second story, I'm not sure I would have realized that this book can be read on a variety of levels. I think most people have been on such islands: places where they feel safe and sheltered but which slowly, inevitably eat away at them, causing them to become lesser individuals, with no more stature than tamed, doomed meerkats. At one point, he is in despair – emotional and physical, and at other times he is in awe of the creations on the planet. But if you haven't and intend to do so, then the following discussion might ruin it for you. But then I have never had anything even closely resembling the shattering, traumatic experiences that Pi has had to live through. The reexamination for the first time in my life made me able to FEEL (instead of just to be able to explain rationally) what it must be like for other people to have the solace and beauty of myth and religion.
This ties in with faith and the suspension of disbelief with respect to the miraculous elements of religion. I mentioned the after-life as an example because I think the need to believe in it is one of the major attractions. Jihad is justified by this belief, holding that secularism is an abomination to God and must be excised. In an interview on CBC he wanted people to remember that Life of Pi didn't come out of thin air: it was the product of lots of sweat and tears. Of course I got the essence of it as a religious fable, but I also liked it from antoher point of view, one that has not been expressed by anyone so far. Ravel couldn't believe this confession and demanded angrily why he hadn't been informed of anything earlier. Once we recognize (as the Japanese investigators do) that in some ways Pi IS Richard Parker (or at least an aspect of him) then the book actually becomes the kind of never-ending story that Pi so desperately wishes for when he's on the boat. But he doesn’t give up, and at the point that all seems lost, hope comes out to him and his conviction is strengthened. The story with the tiger in it is the only way in which he can cope with what he has gone through, the only way in which he is able to make sense of things and continue to live. Mind you, it did not make me a convert, for I see incredible beauty and solace in life without the help of religion, but this book has given me a very valuable insight that I never possessed before, at least not in such a penetrating way.
He spoke of losing confidence in his servant and felt threatened by Gaspard's links to the mafia. It's his anchor, the same role that religious faith serves for millions of people all over the world.
There are mixtures of both reality and fantastic, as parabled beautifully by Pi's raft story. The style is never pompous or tortured or ostentatious and there is a buoyant rhythm that keeps one turning the pages while munching on turtle nuggets or flying fish fins.
In my list of beloved books and authors, adventures in the sea rank very high, from juvenile and not necessarily masterpieces in literary terms, like Salgari, to deep psychological mysteries and epic stories which take place in the sea and its environment (Arthur Gordon Pym by Poe -with its own Richard Parker-, Moby Dick, Nostromo, etc.).
Originally born a Hindu, Pi displays interest in each religion he comes across and this is definitely the most crucial and well-handled part of the book. Martel here introduces each religion as a seed and leaves it to grow in the reader’s hands. At this time, Pi learns much about the animals of the zoo, a part that is of great significance. Then, Pi and his family are shifting to Canada and also transferring the zoo by way of ship.



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