By Chet Yarbrough
Symbolism is a part of this story but it makes little difference to a reader or listener who is looking for an enjoyable fictional adventure; a listener will be fascinated and absorbed by Yann Martel’s writing and Jeff Woodman’s narration of “Life of Pi”.
Martel successfully suspends disbelief in a story about an India born boy that survives a ship wreck in a life boat with a tiger, a zebra, a hyena and an orange orangutan.
This odd menagerie winnows down to the boy and a tiger but, along the way, one learns something about relationships between beast and beast, and man and beast.
Martel describes Pi’s early life as the son of a zoo keeper and owner in Mumbai, India before a fateful voyage to Canada. By telling of Pi’s early life, Martel creates a background that makes Pi’s successful management of his crowded life boat believable. Pi is born a Hindu but becomes interested in Christianity and Islam to the extent that each allows him to love God. This confluence of religious beliefs is a foretelling of how Pi handles the loss of his family, his survival in a hostile environment, and his tolerance for life’s ambiguities.
A spectacularly beautiful movie is made of the book. Though the movie is not as good as the book, the cinematography is astounding.
The story line is simple. Pi’s father sells his business and is transporting his family and zoo animals (that are sold or for sale) by ship to North America when disaster strikes, the ship sinks. As with all ship wreck and life boat stories, the immediate concern is food and water for survivors, of which there is only Pi and four zoo animals.
Survival of the fittest becomes a suspenseful part of the story. The orangutan’s name is Orange Juice. The tiger’s name is Richard Parker with no names to remember for the hyena and zebra. Fascinating tales of survival of the fittest are followed by an equally interesting story of how Pi gains respect and control of an increasingly hungry and thirsty tiger.
In the course of the story, Richard Parker and Pi find an island populated with meerkats and flesh eating plants. They eventually escape the island, and ultimately, reach the shores of Mexico. The Japanese government interviews Pi to determine what happened to the ship that was lost and how Pi survived 227 days after the vessel’s loss. Pi tells his incredible story; the government officials disbelieve him and he creates a more plausible, less interesting story that becomes the official record.
“Life of Pi” is a fun ticket to entertainment.