Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Though all of our volunteer readers weighed in with "two thumbs up," we knew this was a winner when our fiction buyer -- not given to hyperbole -- declared it "one of the best books I've ever read!" Yann Martel's Life of Pi deserves every word of that praise. Drawing parallels between zoology and theology, Martel's novel is by turns amusing, intellectually astute, and poignant. And his Kiplingesque adventure tale will cause readers to reexamine beliefs of all kinds.
Meet Pi Patel, a young man on the cusp of adulthood when fate steps in and hastens his lessons in maturity. En route with his family from their home in India to Canada, their cargo ship sinks, and Pi finds himself adrift in a lifeboat -- alone, save for a few surviving animals, some of the very same animals Pi's zookeeper father warned him would tear him to pieces if they got a chance. But Pi's seafaring journey is about much more than a struggle for survival. It becomes a test of everything he's learned -- about both man and beast, their creator, and the nature of truth itself.
With a brilliant combination of sensitivity and a precise economy of language, Martel develops a story some readers might find less than credible. But his capacity for the mysterious, and a true understanding of the depths of human resilience will compel even the most skeptical of readers to continue on the fantastic journey with Pi, and an unusual 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. (Summer 2002 Selection)
Let me tell you a secret: the name of the greatest living writer of the generation born in the sixties is Yann Martel.
Those who would believe that the art of fiction is moribund-let them read Yann Martel with astonishment, delight, and gratitude.
Globe And Mail
Pi is Martel's triumph. He is understated and ironic, utterly believable and pure. The whole fantastic voyage carries hints of The Old Man And The Sea. The playfulness adds another layer to an already strong story.
The New Yorker
An impassioned defense of zoos, a death-defying trans-Pacific sea adventure à la "Kon-Tiki," and a hilarious shaggy-dog story starring a four-hundred-and-fifty-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker: this audacious novel manages to be all of these as it tells the improbable survivor's tale of Pi Patel, a young Indian fellow named for a swimming pool (his full first name is Piscine) who endures seven months in a lifeboat with only a hungry, outsized feline for company. This breezily aphoristic, unapologetically twee saga of man and cat is a convincing hands-on, how-to guide for dealing with what Pi calls, with typically understated brio, "major lifeboat pests."
A work of wonder, this novel tells a fabulous tale about an intrepid sixteen-year-old boy who spends 227 days at sea with a 450-pound Bengal tiger. The protagonist is a dreamer and a desperado, a zookeeper's son steeped in animal lore and religion (he's a practicing Hindu, Muslim and Catholic). A young Canadian with a Pushcart Prize to his credit, Martel is a limpid stylist with a flair for the poetic. Mainly, however, he's a storytellerand a brilliant one. There are echoes in his work of Latin American magic realism (reminiscent of García Márquez and Borges) and touches of absurdist mind games. A cross-cultural feast, the book ranges from India to North America; it's also packed with curious disquisitions on philosophy, zoology, linguistics and God. But in the end, it's the story you'll remember, the kind of twist-and-turns spellbinder that's almost impossible to forget.
A fabulous romp through an imagination by turns ecstatic, cunning, despairing and resilient, this novel is an impressive achievement "a story that will make you believe in God," as one character says. The peripatetic Pi (n the much-taunted Piscine) Patel spends a beguiling boyhood in Pondicherry, India, as the son of a zookeeper. Growing up beside the wild beasts, Pi gathers an encyclopedic knowledge of the animal world. His curious mind also makes the leap from his native Hinduism to Christianity and Islam, all three of which he practices with joyous abandon. In his 16th year, Pi sets sail with his family and some of their menagerie to start a new life in Canada. Halfway to Midway Island, the ship sinks into the Pacific, leaving Pi stranded on a life raft with a hyena, an orangutan, an injured zebra and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. After the beast dispatches the others, Pi is left to survive for 227 days with his large feline companion on the 26-foot-long raft, using all his knowledge, wits and faith to keep himself alive. The scenes flow together effortlessly, and the sharp observations of the young narrator keep the tale brisk and engaging. Martel's potentially unbelievable plot line soon demolishes the reader's defenses, cleverly set up by events of young Pi's life that almost naturally lead to his biggest ordeal. This richly patterned work, Martel's second novel, won Canada's 2001 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction. In it, Martel displays the clever voice and tremendous storytelling skills of an emerging master. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
"A story to make you believe in the soul-sustaining power of fiction and its humman creators, and in the original power of storytellers like Martel."
"If this century produces a classic work of survival literature, Martel is surelly a contender."
"Beautifully fantastical and spirited."
"[Life of Pi] could renew your faith in the ability of novelists to invest even the most outrageous scenario with plausible life."
It sounds like the start of a bad joke: A boy, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a tiger are stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific. The format makes it clear from the beginning who survives, but it is the how that propels the reader, as Pi's voice emerges with an as-told-to memoir quality that relays the tale of a young man who explores a variety of faiths and learns much about human nature through watching the animals at his father's zoo. Everything he discovers through his observations becomes applicable in the oceanic adventure that takes place after the sinking of the ship carrying his family and a few select specimens from the zoo toward a better life in North America. Although ordinarily science and religion are at odds, the lessons learned through spirituality and biology become Pi's salvation. The novel takes an allegorical twist when Pi reveals that his highly imaginative tale of animals corresponds to a more horrific one, peopled with family and crew from the sunken ship. The plot hooks, the writing is vivid, and the tone is engaging after a slow start. Although the gore and physicality are not for the weak of stomach or faint of heart, teens who enjoy reading to learn something about the world around them or themselves will delight in this Booker Prize-winning novel. VOYA Codes: 4Q 2P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, Harcourt, 336p,
Named for a swimming pool in Paris the Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel begins this extraordinary tale as a teenager in India, where his father is a zoo keeper. Deciding to immigrate to Canada, his father sells off most of the zoo animals, electing to bring a few along with the family on their voyage to their new home. But after only a few days out at sea, their rickety vessel encounters a storm. After crew members toss Pi overboard into one of the lifeboats, the ship capsizes. Not long after, to his horror, Pi is joined by Richard Parker, an acquaintance who manages to hoist himself onto the lifeboat from the roiling sea. You would think anyone in Pi's dire straits would welcome the company, but Richard Parker happens to be a 450-pound Bengal tiger. It is hard to imagine a fate more desperate than Pi's: "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." At first Pi plots to kill Richard Parker. Then he becomes convinced that the tiger's survival is absolutely essential to his own. In this harrowing yet inspiring tale, Martel demonstrates skills so well honed that the story appears to tell itself without drawing attention to the writing. This second novel by the Spanish-born, award-winning author of Self, who now lives in Canada, is highly recommended for all fiction as well as animal and adventure collections. Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
If Canadian writer Yann Martel were a preacher, he'd be charismatic,
funny and convert all the non-believers. He baits his readers with serious
themes and trawls them through a sea of questions and confusion, but he
makes one laugh so much, and at times feel so awed and chilled, that even
thrashing around in bewilderment or disagreement one can't help but be
captured by his prose. Charlotte Innes
A fable about the consolatory and strengthening powers of religion flounders about somewhere inside this unconventional coming-of-age tale, which was shortlisted for Canada's Governor General's Award. The story is told in retrospect by Piscine Molitor Patel (named for a swimming pool, thereafter fortuitously nicknamed "Pi"), years after he was shipwrecked when his parents, who owned a zoo in India, were attempting to emigrate, with their menagerie, to Canada. During 227 days at sea spent in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger (mostly with the latter, which had efficiently slaughtered its fellow beasts), Pi found serenity and courage in his faith: a frequently reiterated amalgam of Muslim, Hindu, and Christian beliefs. The story of his later life, education, and mission rounds out, but does not improve upon, the alternately suspenseful and whimsical account of Pi's ordeal at sea-which offers the best reason for reading this otherwise preachy and somewhat redundant story of his Life.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
A story to make you believe in the soul-sustaining power of fiction and its human creators, and in the original power of storytellers like Martel.
Beautifully fantastical and spirited.
The New York Times Book Review
[Life of Pi] could renew your faith in the ability of novelists to invest even the most outrageous scenario with plausible life.
Los Angeles Times Book Review - Francie Lin
"A story to make you believe in the soul-sustaining power of fiction and its human creators, and in the original power of storytellers like Martel."
Salon - Suzy Hansen
"Beautifully fantastical and spirited."
The Nation - Charlotte Innes
"If this century produces a classic work of survival literature, Martel is surely a contender."
The New York Times Book Review - Gary Krist
"[Life of Pi] could renew your faith in the ability of novelists to invest even the most outrageous scenario with plausible life."
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR LIFE OF PI
"Life of Pi could renew your faith in the ability of novelists to invest even the most outrageous scenario with plausible life."— The New York Times Book Review
"A story to make you believe in the soul-sustaining power of fiction."— Los Angeles Times Book Review
"A gripping adventure story . . . Laced with wit, spiced with terror, it's a book by an extraordinary talent."— St. Paul Pioneer-Press
"A terrific book . . . Fresh, original, smart, devious, and crammed with absorbing lore."— Margaret Atwood
"An impassioned defense of zoos, a death-defying trans-Pacific sea adventure a la Kon-Tiki, and a hilarious shaggy-dog story . . . : This audacious novel manages to be all of these." — The New Yorker
"Readers familiar with Margaret Atwood, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje and Carol Shields should learn to make room on the map of contemporary Canadian fiction for the formidable Yann Martel." — Chicago Tribune
Read an Excerpt
My suffering left me sad and gloomy.
Academic study and the steady, mindful practice of religion slowly brought me back to life. I have kept up what some people would consider my strange religious practices. After one year of high school, I attended the University of Toronto and took a double-major Bachelor's degree. My majors were religious studies and zoology. My fourth-year thesis for religious studies concerned certain aspects of the cosmogony theory of Isaac Luria, the great sixteenth-century Kabbalist from Safed. My zoology thesis was a functional analysis of the thyroid gland of the three-toed sloth. I chose the sloth because its demeanour-calm, quiet and introspective-did something to soothe my shattered self.
There are two-toed sloths and there are three-toed sloths, the case being determined by the forepaws of the animals, since all sloths have three claws on their hind paws. I had the great luck one summer of studying the three-toed sloth in situ in the equatorial jungles of Brazil. It is a highly intriguing creature. Its only real habit is indolence. It sleeps or rests on average twenty hours a day. Our team tested the sleep habits of five wild three-toed sloths by placing on their heads, in the early evening after they had fallen asleep, bright red plastic dishes filled with water. We found them still in place late the next morning, the water of the dishes swarming with insects. The sloth is at its busiest at sunset, using the word busy here in the most relaxed sense. It moves along the bough of a tree in its characteristic upside-down position at the speed of roughly 400 metres an hour. On the ground, it crawls to its next tree at the rate of 250 metres an hour, when motivated, which is 440 times slower than a motivated cheetah. Unmotivated, it covers four to five metres in an hour.
The three-toed sloth is not well informed about the outside world. On a scale of 2 to 10, where 2 represents unusual dullness and 10 extreme acuity, Beebe (1926) gave the sloth's senses of taste, touch, and its sense of smell a rating of 3. If you come upon a sleeping three-toed sloth in the wild, two or three nudges should suffice to awaken it; it will then look sleepily in every direction but yours. Why it should took about is uncertain since the sloth sees everything in a Magoo-like blur. Beebe reported that firing guns next to sleeping or feeding sloths elicited little reaction. And the sloth's slightly better sense of smell should not be overestimated. They are said to be able to sniff and avoid decayed branches, but Bullock (1968) reported that sloths fall to the ground clinging to decayed branches "often".
How does it survive you might ask.
Precisely by being so slow. Sleepiness and slothfulness keep it out of harm's way, away from the notice of jaguars, ocelots, harpy eagles and anacondas. A sloth's hairs shelter an algae that is brown during the dry season and green during the wet season, so the animal blends in with the surrounding moss and foliage and looks like a nest of white ants or of squirrels, or like nothing at all but part of a tree.
The three-toed sloth lives a peaceful, vegetarian life in perfect harmony with its environment. "A good-natured smile is forever on its own lips," reported Tirler (1966). I have seen that smile with my own eyes. I am not one given to projecting human traits and emotions onto animals, but many a time during that month in Brazil, up at sloths in repose, I felt I was in the presence of upside-down yogis deep in meditation or hermits deep in prayer, wise beings whose intense imaginative lives were beyond the reach of my scientific probing.
Sometimes I got my majors mixed up. A number of my fellow religious-studies students-muddled agnostics who didn't know which way was up, who were in the thrall of reason, that fool's gold for the bright reminded me of the three-toed sloth; and the three-toed sloth, such a beautiful example of the miracle of life, reminded me of God.
I never had problems with my fellow scientists. Scientists are a friendly, atheistic, hard-working, beer-drinking lot whose minds are preoccupied with sex, chess and baseball when they are not preoccupied with science.
I was a very good student, if I may say so myself. I was tops at St. Michael's College four years in a row. I got every possible student award from the Department of Zoology. If I got none from the Department of Religious Studies, it is simply because there are no student awards in this department (the rewards of religious study are not in mortal hands, we all know that). I would have received the Governor General's Academic Medal, the University of Toronto's highest undergraduate award, of which no small number of illustrious Canadians have been recipients, were it not for a beef-eating pink boy with a neck like a tree trunk and a temperament of unbearable good cheer.
I still smart a little at the slight. When you've suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling. My life is like a memento mori painting from European art: there is always a grinning skull at my side to remind me of the folly of human ambition. I mock this skull. I look at it and I say, "You've got the wrong fellow. You may not believe in life, but I don't believe in death. Move on!" The skull snickers and moves ever closer, but that doesn't surprise me. The reason death sticks so closely to life isn't biological necessity it's envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud. The pink boy also got the nod from the Rhodes Scholarship committee. I love him and I hope his time at Oxford was a rich experience. If Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, one day favours me bountifully, Oxford is fifth on the list of cities I would like to visit before I pass on, after Mecca, Varanasi, Jerusalem and Paris.
I have nothing to say of my working life, only that a tie is a noose, and inverted though it is, it will hang a man nonetheless if he's not careful.
I love Canada. I miss the heat of India, the food, the house lizards on the walls, the musicals on the silver screen, the cows wandering the streets, the crows cawing, even the talk of cricket matches, but I love Canada. It is a great country much too cold for good sense, inhabited by compassionate, intelligent people with bad hairdos. Anyway, I have nothing to go home to in Pondicherry.
Richard Parker has stayed with me. I've never forgotten him. Dare I say I miss him? I do. I miss him. I still see him in my dreams. They are nightmares mostly, but nightmares tinged with love. Such is the strangeness of the human heart. I still cannot understand how he could abandon me so unceremoniously, without any sort of goodbye, without looking back even once. That pain is like an axe that chops at my heart.
The doctors and nurses at the hospital in Mexico were incredibly kind to me. And the patients, too. Victims of cancer or car accidents, once they heard my story, they hobbled and wheeled over to see me, they and their families, though none of them spoke English and I spoke no Spanish. They smiled at me, shook my hand, patted me on the head, left gifts of food and clothing on my bed. They moved me to uncontrollable fits of laughing and crying.
Within a couple of days I could stand, even make two, three steps, despite nausea, dizziness and general weakness. Blood tests revealed that I was anemic, and that my level of sodium was very high and my potassium low. My body retained fluids and my legs swelled up tremendously. I looked as if I had been grafted with a pair of elephant legs. My urine was a deep, dark yellow going on to brown. After a week or so, I could walk just about normally and I could wear shoes if I didn't lace them up. My skin healed, though I still have scars on my shoulders and back.
The first time I turned a tap on, its noisy, wasteful, superabundant gush was such a shock that I became incoherent and my legs collapsed beneath me and I fainted in the arms of a nurse.
The first time I went to an Indian restaurant in Canada I used my fingers. The waiter looked at me critically and said, 'Fresh off the boat, are you?" I blanched. My fingers, which a second before had been taste buds savouring the food a little ahead of my mouth, became dirty under his gm. They froze like criminals caught in the act. I didn't dare lick them. I wiped them guiltily on my napkin. He had no idea how deeply those words wounded me. They were like nails being driven into my flesh. I picked up the knife and fork. I had hardly ever used such instruments. My hands trembled. My sambar lost its taste.
Copyright © 2001 Yan Martel