Yann Martel,
Life of Pi
(Harcourt/Harvest, 2001)

In the future, when I think of Life of Pi, Yann Martel's survival story, I will remember how thirsty and hungry he is in this fanciful story. He is only a boy of 14, in dangerous straits, with that 450-pound tiger in the lifeboat with him (and he, too, is hungry and thirsty, as large feral cats are likely to be). I remember how hungry boys are at that age, and I also remember the sleepy, yawning tigers in the Como Park Zoo in St. Paul, Minn. Somehow, tigers of any stripe are scarier than hunger.

One thing about Pi -- he is not a fussy eater. The flying fishes and the giant sea turtles may sound like exotic fare, but how much do you feed a tiger and have a bite or two left for yourself?

Martel tells a story so strange that you can hardly believe it is fiction. It seems chillingly real.

What would it be like to float on the open sea for months on end? Pi, a native lad from a French port city named Pondicherry, south of Madras in southern India, is on his way to Canada by ship with his parents and a brother. The family's zoo is sold to finance the move. However, the animals are also onboard the ship en route to new homes in several big city zoos. A sudden storm, high winds, then an explosion in an engine, and Pi finds himself afloat in a large lifeboat. He is not alone -- a hyena, a zebra and, larger than life, a royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker share the ride. How the shy orang-utan arrived is of interest, but it need not concern us here.

Charles Darwin predicted what would happen, and it did, up to a point. Life of Pi is a classic survival story and a hero story in one. Martel is a delightful writer in the mould of Salman Rushdie, playful with words and cheerfully happy, even against terrible odds. I give this book a thumbs up and I recommend it for all ages -- with a special nod to the young adult readers. Pi is funny and smart, a delightful boy. I would like to read more about the life of Pi as he settled into life in Canada. Mr. Martel, please?

- Rambles
written by Jean Marchand
published 22 November 2003

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