Genre: Literary Fiction
Author(s): Yann Martel
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: 09/11/2001
Other Choices: The Handmaid's Tale, The House of the Spirits, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
Synopsis: Fascinating survival tale with animal facts, gory detail.
Common Sense Rates It:
Parents need to know
Parents need to know that Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi is the story an Indian zookeeper's son, who survives a shipwreck. Though Pi generally describes his many days at sea as monotonous, he also describes the sexual behavior of zoo animals and relates tales of danger and survival with great tension, using elaborate detail to describe wild animals killing and eating each other and humans killing and eating animals. The novel also includes acts of murder and cannibalism. This is a gory book, no question, and not recommended for the squeamish. Parents might also note that Pi forms his own belief system from the teachings of the Catholic, Hindu, and Muslim religions, saying that he simply wants to "love God."
- Families can talk about the lesson Pi's father teaches his sons with the tiger and the goat. Why is this important in Life of Pi, and how does this experience affect Pi's ability to survive in the lifeboat?
- Which of Pi's stories do you believe?
- What do you make of Pi's religious inclusiveness? Does it make sense to you? Can people believe in more than one faith?
What's the story?
Yann Martel's novel LIFE OF PI is the story of Piscine Molitor Patel, who likes to be called "Pi" because children made fun of his name, calling him "Pissing" when he was a boy. Pi grows up in India with his brother, Ravi, his mom, and his dad, who runs a zoo. As a boy, Pi struggles with the identity issues connected with his name and with his personal belief system. He visits leaders of three different religions, and joins the Catholic, Hindu, and Muslim faiths. When Pi's parents decide to move their family to Canada, the Patels board a Japanese cargo ship that will take them and some of the zoo animals to North America. However, disaster strikes the ship and Pi must battle for survival. Most of the book is a narration of Pi's time at sea. The film adaptation of Life of Pi is scheduled for Nov. 21, 2012, release.
Is it any good?
Life of Pi is a fascinating and original story of survival and identity. Martel creates a wonderfully realized, clever character in Pi, and a unique world of home, zoo, school, and various houses of various gods. The bit where all three religious figures realize that Pi has joined their faith is quite funny, and so wise. Readers have come to love Pi by the time his ship sinks, and every terrifying, bloody struggle he faces is met with intelligence and frought with tension. This is a smart, absorbing novel, although, given its gory descriptions, not a book to be enjoyed with a meal.
The Good Stuff
Messages: The strongest message of Yann Martel's unusual novel is one of survival and the value of life. Though Pi, a lifelong vegetarian, must kill all manner of creatures to survive, the author never treats these events lightly. Pi is ever driven by his will to live and his inclusive, multi-religious love of God.
Educational Value: Pi, the main character of Yann Martel's Life of Pi, shares a wealth of detailed information on a variety of topics: zookeeping, animal behavior, survival techniques, and religious beliefs and practices of Catholics, Muslims, and Hindi. However, Pi is a somewhat unreliable narrator, and a lot of what he explains about wild animals falls into the "Don't try this at home" category.
Role Models: In Part 1 of Life of Pi, young Pi is guided by his parents and three religious teachers. His father uses a fairly shocking method to teach his sons to respect wild animals, but his motives are well-intentioned. Pi's mother is affectionate and protective. Pi gets to know a Catholic priest as well as leaders in the Hindu and Muslim faiths. He is moved by all of their teachings, and incorporates ideas from all three religions into his own belief system. Pi is also close to some of his schoolteachers, from whom he learns valuable academic and life lessons.
What to watch out for
Violence Whether or not Pi's survival stories are to be believed, they are extremely violent and graphic. The narrator uses elaborate detail to describe wild animals killing and eating each other, and humans killing and eating animals. The book also includes acts of murder and cannibalism.
Sex: Early in the book, Pi describes the sexual behavior of zoo animals.
Language: Pi, whose real name is Piscine (the French word for swimming pool), is teased by other children, who call him "Pissing."
Consumerism: Not an issue
Drinking, drugs & smoking: Pi says that some crew members aboard the cargo ship have been drinking alcohol.