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Life of Pi (illustrated Edition)
by Yann Martel
ISBN 0676978991 / 9780676978995 / 0-676-97899-1
Publisher Knopf Canada
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Serious novels about young boys being drawn closer to God while trapped on lifeboats with dangerous wild animals ought to be impossible. Life of Pi, Yann Martel's second novel, proves they're not. Its plot stretches the limits of credibility into new and exciting shapes, and the fact that Martel has made his materials into an enchanting story is almost unbelievable. Martel's Pi is Piscine Molitor Patel, a boy from Pondicherry, one of the few Indian towns to be colonized by France. Pi is an intelligent, unusual child: he has a scientific turn of mind but is also a practising Hindu, Moslem, and Christian. Pi's family runs a large zoo, but they decide to sell their animals to zoos in the United States and emigrate to Canada. Crossing the Pacific (with their animals), they're shipwrecked halfway between China and Midway. Pi survives, only to find himself sharing a lifeboat with an injured zebra, a spotted hyena, an orangutan, and Richard Parker--an immense Bengal tiger.
Most of these animals are doomed, but Pi and Richard Parker cling to life, establishing a tacit order on the lifeboat. Martel handles this part of the story perfectly: one would expect Life of Pi to become cute, or perhaps preachy, but it is neither. Life on the boat proceeds in strict accordance with the rules of ecology and territorialism, and the interdependence of the passengers is both believable and absorbing. Life of Pi is a superb novel, both for its story and for its rich examinations of religion, isolation, and love. If this is an indication of what is to come, we can expect great things from Yann Martel. --Jack Illingworth [via]