Yan 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.
Yan Martel was born in Spain and now lives in Montreal.
The book won the Man Booker Prize. Praise from Margaret Atwood The Sunday Times (London): Life of Pi is not just a readable and engaging novel, it’s a finely twisted length of yarn – yarn implying a far fetched story you can’t quite swallow whole, but can’t dismiss outright. Life of Pi is in this tradition – a story of uncertain veracity, made credible by the art of the yarn-spinner. Like its noteworthy ancestors, among which I take to be Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, the Ancient Mariner, Moby Dick and Pincher Martin, it’s a tale of disaster at sea coupled with miraculous survival – a boy’s adventure for grownups.