Life of Pi by Yann Martel Book Review
Originality is a vital factor in what makes a story unique, throughout literature novelists and storytellers regularly face accusations from critics of plagiarism and fabricated events for their works, whether it may be a common misconception or boiled down to inspiration that was subconsciously drawn from another work or event. In the novel Life of Pi, Canadian author Yann Martel tackles exactly that. This novel follows the life of a vegetarian man holding a great capacity for intelligence and charisma, a man with the name Piscine Molitor Patel, but going by the nickname “Pi”. Piscine and his family owned a zoo, but they decide to sell it away and move to Canada to escape political animosity in India. While they travel through a Japanese freighter ship called the Tsimtsum, a presumed mechanical failure paired with an undisciplined crew and a storm, causes the ship to sink. This event leads our protagonist Pi to be thrown overboard by crew members strapped with a life jacket into a lifeboat. It is after this event where our story splits into two different realities, the first of which is distorted and has events unfold around a primal tiger, baffled zebra, maternal orangutan, and spineless hyena. Whereas the second story, which is told to the Japanese investigators after Pi is rescued, replaces the quartet of animals with humans following gruesome details and a loss for human morality. Each respectively is depicted as Pi’s mother being the orangutan, the injured zebra being a crewman, the hyena being a French cook, and finally Richard Parker or the Bengal tiger as Pi himself. Although the first story told by Pi may play at the strings of many hearts and be recognized as the “better story”, it is the second story that proves to be the more plausible or realistic tale no matter how dark and emotionally disturbing it may get.
Before all else, when listening to such a magical realist’s tale, one must be prepared to act and question with logic or reason, no matter how good the tale gets. Parker plays an important role in the first story being the saviour of Pi and the avenger of the orangutan, but the tiger is Pi’s primal self that became overcome with the instinct to fight, survive, and avenge his mother. Pi has said, he was on the lifeboat adrift at sea for 227 days. For him to remain in such a situation where he lived around the Bengal tiger is foolishness, no matter how trained the animal was. Nearly 20 to 40 thousand years ago, the process of domestication of dogs took place for us to arrive at the point we are today. For him to reach a position where he can eat around and albeit uncomfortably sleep around a 450-pound tiger relatively safely in a mere 227 days is most certainly nonsense. Tigers while being trainable to an extent, can never be stripped away of predatory responses during feedings, or rest. Such responses threaten Pi’s wellbeing and would most definitely lead to his death. Continuing, looking near the very beginning of Pi’s ordeal, an orangutan makes it safely to his lifeboat, “The bananas on which she floated were held together by the nylon net …” As absurd as it sounds, bananas are less dense than water and therefore buoyant left to their own. However, when they are accompanied by the average 81.5-pound female orangutan on top, they will quite easily sink, no matter the position they hold. This leaves the orangutan in the water and with their high body densities and lousy swimming skills, she would quite literally drown. Unless of course, it was not an orangutan and instead Pi’s mother. Moving on, after many events, Pi and the Bengal tiger reach a strange island full of plants, pools of water and meerkats. They have found themselves food security, but what the island gives them during the day, it takes away at night with its carnivorous algae and acidic pools. Modern science has found nothing near the extent of what is depicted in the novel along with its otherworldly trees. “Who had ever heard of land with no soil? With trees growing out of pure vegetation?” With this, it can be said that the island never existed and was rather a religious symbol during Pi’s spiritual journey. At first, it appears to be safe, promising comfort and much-needed nourishment representing a shallow faith shown through the meerkats, but later is discovered to be deceitful. The island ties into modern-day religious storytelling as it is very much like the “Garden of Eden” in the sense that while it seems to be a paradise, upon Pi’s discovery of the “Forbidden Fruit” from the teeth tree, the evils of the island are made quite clear.
Furthermore, while it may seem that a choice was given to us by either Pi or the author as to pick what story was true, in the end, we were essentially told the true identities of the animals and shown that they symbolized humans. Their identities were revealed when the two officials from the Maritime Department in the Japanese Ministry of Transport visit Pi. He tells them the first story which includes the animals. “What about this algae island you say you came upon?” Skeptical about many points throughout the story the two officials Mr. Tomohiro Okamoto, and his junior colleague, Mr. Atsuro Chiba honestly inquire, “I’m sorry to say it so bluntly, we don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but you don’t really expect us to believe you, do you?” They essentially explained to Pi that they simply need a second story, scientifically stating to Pi “Your island is botanically impossible.” They want a story that would provide them with sustenance while being convincing and feasible. With this, Pi provides them with the “real” story, the Japanese interviewers then decipher and note the parallels existing between the two stories and can conclude that the hyena is symbolizing the French cook, the zebra is the sailor, the orangutan is Pi’s mother, and the tiger described was Pi himself. Moreover, in this encounter Pi was essentially forced to reflect on his situation giving out the “actual” story. With swiftness and precision, Pi was able to speak on horrific events with meticulous details. “He raised his head and looked at me. He hurled something my way. A line of blood struck me across the face. No whip could have inflicted a more painful lash. I held my mother’s head in my hands. I let it go. It sank in a cloud of blood, her tress trailing like a tail.” In addition to this, Mr. Okamoto notes “Both the zebra and the Taiwanese sailor broke a leg, did you notice that?” This followed with “And the hyena bit off the zebra’s leg just as the cook cut off the sailor’s.” From this it is undeniable that parallels exist between the two stories, they exist too perfectly to be a part of any form of abstract perception. All the events he spoke on sync together in perfect cohesion when replacing the animals with their human counterparts, even considering the littlest of details such as the Orangutan and Pi’s mother both having two sons. It is simply too perfect to be passed off as a pitiable man’s delusions.