Life of Pi by Yann Martel

6 Aug

Bibliographic Information

Life of Pi written by Yann Martel, Harcourt, 2001, ISBN: 0-15-602732-1

Plot Summary

Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel is a sixteen-year-old boy when his family travels with their family zoo from Pondicherry, India to Canada.  Pi has grown up with the animals in the zoo and has an encyclopedic understanding of their traits and behavior.  He has also grown up with an insatiable curiosity with the world’s religions, which causes him to blend aspects of his native Hinduism with Christianity and Islam in his attempts to “love god.”  Both his knowledge of animals and his faith help him survive when the ship his family is traveling on crashes in the middle of the ocean and he is stuck on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, a hyena, a zebra and an orangutan.

Now Pi must find a way to survive in a small space with these wild and ferocious creatures.  After the hyena kills the zebra and orangutan, the Bengal tiger, nicknamed “Richard Parker” eats the hyena and turns his hungry eyes on Pi.  Pi knows he must establish dominance on the lifeboat if he is to survive.  He’s also got to find a way to feed himself and the tiger so they don’t feed on each other.  If he can do this, then the two may just offer each other enough companionship to survive the ordeal.

Critical Evaluation

Life of Pi is one of the great adventure stories to come out in the last decade.  Its premise is incredibly intriguing: how can a boy survive on a lifeboat with a hungry Bengal tiger?  At first the situation appears hopeless, but through Pi’s ingenuity and intelligence, he’s able to develop a symbiotic relationship with Richard Parker.  Pi keeps him alive and in turn, the tiger keeps him company during the countless days they are stranded at sea. Martel makes all this feel believable through his excellent and detailed prose that is both realistic and at times hallucinatory.

What makes Pi such a compelling narrator is not only his courage and resilience in the face of almost certain death, but his deep intelligence and curiosity.  His musings on the world’s religions are interesting and deeply human.  How he creates his own religion to be closer to god is as interesting a journey as his 227 days on the lifeboat.  The ending also provides an intriguing twist that will have readers thinking about this novel for years to come.

Reader’s Annotation

If you were stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger, a hyena, a zebra, and an orangutan, how would you survive?  This is the question “Pi” Patel must figure out after the ship carrying his family’s zoo sinks in the middle of the ocean.  This is an amazing story of faith and courage that readers will not be able to put down.

Information about the author

From the author’s page on, we learn that “Yann Martel, the son of diplomats, was born in Spain in 1963. He grew up in Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Alaska, and Canada and as an adult has spent time in Iran, Turkey, and India. After studying philosophy in college, he worked at various odd jobs until he began earning his living as a writer at the age of twenty-seven. He lives in Montreal.”



Curriculum Ties


Booktalking Ideas

Which of the two stories Pi tells in the end do you believe?

Would Pi have survived the ordeal without Richard Parker?

Reading Level / Interest Age

Grade 9 and up

Challenge Issues


Why did I include this title?

I loved this book when it was first published in 2001.  This November, the film version comes out directed by Ang Lee so I thought it was a good time to revisit what I consider to be a modern classic.



2 Responses to “Life of Pi by Yann Martel”

  1. thetardisgirl August 9, 2012 at 1:53 am #

    This was a really awesome book!

  2. zookyshirts August 9, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    I read this a little while ago and remember what a remarkable story it is. A very unusual story that kept surprising me — the floating island comes to mind. And that’s cool it will become a movie!

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