A 16 years old Indian boy, Piscine Molitor Patel, popularly known as Pi, gets shipwrecked somewhere near the Mariana Trench. In the accident, he loses his entire family and a whole cargo of animals that are being transferred from his father’s zoo in Pondicherry to Canada. He finds himself marooned on a life boat with a Royal Bengal Tiger that has miraculously escaped from its enclosure during the fatal events of the night and a remarkable struggle of survival on the life boat ensues. In a total of 227 days spent at the mercy of the unforgiving and ruthless Pacific Ocean, in the presence of an unrelenting and savage carnivore, only religion and interestingly the tiger, give Pi the faith and a will to survive.
The story is based in 1977, Pondicherry and more predominantly the Pacific Ocean. To give Pi’s character some shape and substance Martel focuses on themes of zoology and religion, things rooted to Pi’s life since the beginning of his youth. There are also several references to various religious practices in the first part of the book, mostly dealing with Islam, Christianity and Hinduism.
Martel writes the book in 3 separate parts, using different styles for each. Although most of the tale is narrated by Pi himself, the first part is interspersed with narrations by the author, mostly about the time spent at Pi’s home, where Martel interviews Pi about the events during, before and after the shipwreck. It is vaguely philosophical, random and humorous in nature but it lacks plot or cadence. The second part is completely in the first person. It is peppered with several descriptions about landscapes, animals and vegetation along with other descriptions about Pi’s actions and thoughts. The third part of the book is a short dialogue between Pi and two Japanese men- a comical and light read.
It is easy to dissect the writing technique. It turns out to be something akin to a Chimera, in the sense that it has very distinct and discordant parts put together certainly not in an ugly but, yes, somewhat grotesque combination. There is humor, but it doesn't blend in with the descriptions and the prose turns out to be repetitive, even boringly so. The first part of the book reads like random ramblings and notes put together in a jiffy-premature, incomplete, and superficial and the style seems to be something inspired by Rushdie’s genre of writing, but even in being so - highly diluted and powerless. The story however is fantastic. As you read through, each of Pi’s disappointments become your own and just as he starves and suffers so do you. At the end of it, the work leaves you wondering what a great privilege the light on the ceiling, the water in your refrigerator and even the ground beneath your feet is. Nature’s power leaves you truly and completely mesmerized and so does the miracle of life. In his book successfully reinvents the marooned-lone-survivor stereotype first created by Robert Louis Stevenson and establishes a new genre in a previously isolated zone.
Did you read this book too? Got an opinion on it? Share it!