"I was alone and orphaned, in the middle of the Pacific, hanging on to an oar, an adult tiger in front of me, sharks beneath me, a storm raging about me."
This story follows the life of Piscine Patel, an Indian immigrant on his way to Canada by way of cargo ship. His family had owned a zoo in Pondicherry, India and was transporting the remaining animals they owned to various Canadian zoos. The ship ends up sinking and Pi is left floating on the Pacific ocean accompanied by a zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger.
This an amazing tale in the theme of survival stories. Martel provides the reader with sumptuous detail that illustrates a direct contrast before and after the shipwreck. Here's one of my favourite excerpts.
" Every morning before I was out the main gate I had one last impression that was both ordinary and unforgettable: a pyramid of turtles; the iridescent snout of a mandrill; the stately silence of a giraffe; the obese, yellow open mouth of a hippo; the beak-and-claw climbing of a macaw parrot up a wire fence; the greeting claps of shoebill's bill; the senile, lecherous expression of a camel."
I loved the description of the steps Pi took to survive as well as the aspects of magic realism that crept into the pages. Although the fantastical elements of the animals vanish by the middle of the book. Watch out for the twist ending. It's both amazing and heart-wrenching.
The book combines religions and philosophies, common sense, magic realism, the will to survive and an understanding of animals. It's not every day a book combining all these elements is this good.
I'm also pleased to say there's a Canadian connection as Yann Martel, the author, just happens to be Canadian. As well, this book won the prestigious Man Booker Prize.
The first 100 pages drag. Martel uses those pages to ground the reader in the reality of the story in order to make the rest of the book more believable. The problem though is if you're not willing to plow through the lack of suspense and tension, you might miss the best part of the book.
As well, the book requires you to suspend your disbelief. As the it progresses the story becomes considerably more unbelievable, asking more of the reader. This is why that 100 page setup is so important in the beginning.
If you're uncomfortable with violence or gore then you'll want to watch out for some parts in the middle and the end of the book.