s.penkevich's Reviews > Life of Pi

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
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Aug 29, 12

bookshelves: high_sea_adventure, man_booker_prize, animals
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Megan
Recommended for: Those looking for an uplifting, spiritual story

’ Life is a peephole, a single tiny entry onto a vastness.

We have all heard the phrase ‘you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.’ While this is a good life lesson, especially when taken as a metaphor that extends beyond books and into people, places, foods, etc., sometimes the cover of a novel is very telling of what lies within. Yann Martel’s Life of Pi wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve. A quick glance at the cover shows the overzealous stamp of ‘Winner of the Man Booker Prize’, INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER, the indication that, yes, this is ‘A Novel’, and an image that both depicts the major plot point of the novel, thus spoiling the surprise of who Richard Parker really is. All this praise lauded upon the cover is instantly telling that this is a novel that has reached a wide audience, and is most likely aimed towards wide critical acclaim. That is all fine, and bravo to Mr. Martel for being able to leave his mark on the bestseller list, something I can only imagine in my wildest of wildest dreams, but sometimes when reaching for a large audience you have to elbow out a small percentage of readers. I am that small percentage that was elbowed out by Martel’s attempt to make an accessible novel that will touch the reader on a spiritual level. This is a difficult novel to review as, firstly, I did enjoy reading the book. I gave in to reading this book that I have been purposely avoiding after reading the excellent review from mi Hermana. I had a lot of fun discussing this book with her, texting her my shocks and suprises in the plot, and discussing the book in several threads with fellow Goodreaders. As anyone can see with a quick glance at the overall ratings, this book seems to really strike a chord in many readers, yet also brings a large crowd of dissenters. While I did extract a good deal of pleasure from the novel, it just didn’t sit well with me at the same time. In all fairness to the novel, and to my usual reading list, I have to dissect this book with the same views of novels that I would any other. This begs the question as to ‘why do we read?’, and this reason differs from person to person much like each persons meaning of life – a theme explored in Pi. Life of Pi was a pleasurable read that suffered from a heavy-handed serving of morality. While Martel delivers one charming phrase after the next with a graceful flow, he would have greatly benefited from a touch of subtlety.

All to often, Martel would draw conclusions for the reader. A prime example occurs in the first few pages when Pi’s science teacher visits the Zoo (a zoo that he does not hold back from explaining how it serves as a metaphor for humanity), and calls out the name of well-known scientists whose studies pertain to the activities of the animals he is currently viewing. Martel spoils the moment by explaining that Mr. Kumar liked to prove to himself ‘that everything was order’. It felt as if Martel didn’t believe his readers could connect the dot. Even more obscure ideas are spoiled in such a manner. When a rain of flying fish saves Pi and Richard Parker from certain hunger, he thanks Vishnu saying ‘once you saved the world by taking the form of a fish. Now you have saved me by taking the form of a fish’. While I would not have made this connection, it ruins that ‘ah-ha!’ moment for those that do. It is that special moment of understanding an allusion in literature that keeps me reading a wide variety of texts, and it seems insulting to have someone to make connections without giving you an opportunity. Even at the very end, in his shocking twist of an ending (I must profess this novel has an incredible conclusion), the two Chinese men literally draw the connections for you saying something to the effect of ‘oh, this is this and that means that…’. This all seems to be Martel’s way of making sure his message gets heard, and is able to reach everyone. It is a noble goal, and it gets people who do not typically read to like and enjoy a book, so I cannot necessarily knock him for it as that was his goal, but this is all to my chagrin.

‘It's important in life to conclude things properly,’ Pi explains, ‘only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse’. The question now is, does Martel conclude things properly? I personally loved the conclusion to this book. He successfully pulls the rug out from under the reader and exposes the real message behind the book. Without spoiling anything, this novel makes a good statement on the powers of storytelling with both a fun plot device and well crafted statements such as ‘that's what fiction is about, isn't it, the selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out its essence?’ Had he left it at that, it would have been wonderful and allowed for mass interpretability and the reader could have easily connected it to spirituality. However, Martel forces the connection to religion down the reader’s throat. The whole beginning section of the novel, which details Pi’s exploration of various religions, seems irrelevant for the majority the novel. Occasionally he will pray or include some stunning statements on the beauty of life and the grace of God/gods, but it seems to have been only there to make sure you were looking for the religious metaphors in the plot and comes across as Martel with a death grip on the readers head, jerking it back and forth shouting ‘look here! Notice that! Remember what we talked about!?’ While much of the focus on spirituality was well done, it was far too heavy-handed and led to a rather narrow interpretation on the ending.

My major concern is that Martel only gave us what he thought the reader would want, making quotes such as ‘ I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently,’ seem like he wasn’t being as ironic with the ending as he hoped it would be. While the conclusion comes out as ‘bet you didn’t see that coming’, it really doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been said before. The novel is heralded as being an affirmation of faith, and that’s exactly what it is, an affirmation. It isn’t going to challenge your beliefs, although he does an excellent job allowing different religious figures to challenge the differences in belief of one another even if it is the same concepts anyone would learn in a 100 level humanities course; it isn’t going to convert any readers to a life of devotion; it only provides a blanket and a comfort to those that already believe. Which, once again, is not a bad thing, if that is what you are looking for. It reminded me of something a professor once told me in a World Religions course. He described church as something that, and this is his opinion, is a crutch for those who needed it. He compared the obligation to attend to telling a girlfriend you only hang out with them because you feel you have to and are obligated to. While his opinion is a bit harsh and easily offensive, what he was really trying to say is you should believe because you want to, not because you have to. Martel makes it seem like you have to believe in these things, and I see why that makes this book hard to swallow for someone who doesn’t. Once again, in hopes to reassure and reach a large audience, Martel rudely elbows out the remainder. However, I really feel uncomfortable discussing beliefs on the open seas of the internet, and I really hope nothing said here offends you as that is not my intention. Please understand I am only speaking in relevance to my thoughts on a book, not on religion. The insistence of Martel to wrap a cool concept with spirituality is a major reason why it is so difficult to talk about this book. It is hard to separate the two ideas, but I’m doing my best to keep this focused on the literary aspects. I’m getting too self-conscious! The whole point here is that a lot of what Martel says has been said before, better, and with more willingness to evoke a change in the reader.

All that said, there is a lot that I truly enjoyed about this book. If you push all the aforementioned details aside, this was a wild ride. This made me want to visit zoos and hug a tiger. Look how cute this tiger is: Tell me you don’t want to hug that! I really enjoyed the wealth of zoological knowledge Martel bestows upon the reader, and his insistence on seeming ‘realistic’ with his animals. After reading this book, you will know why you should never, ever try to hug a tiger or take a wild animal for granted. He makes an interesting point how we force cute cuddly animal toys on children and make them think they are some domestic pet. While this is used as an excellent point that humans are the villain, which is easily slotted into the religious issues as an explanation that it isn’t religion that causes violence but the people abusing the rhetoric, it does seem ironically opposed to his final statement of how religion glosses over the grimy, difficult to handle details of life and makes it easier to handle. Are cute cuddly animal toys then religion? This novel is a very positive message to the world, and anything promoting peace and harmony can’t be all that bad. I enjoyed statements such as ‘ If there's only one nation in the sky, shouldn't all passports be valid for it?’, which is an important idea considering the violence that takes place around the world. I also enjoyed how the animal story is also chock full of scientific facts and details, which fuses the idea of religion and science together instead of showing them as opposites. Thre were some symbolism, the ones he left untainted by a forced explanation, that really struck me. The tiger itself is open for many views, either as God, Pi, or life itself - something we must face and tame lest it destroy us. However, could it be the killer inside us all, an urge and animalistic force we must keep in check in order to exist in a civilized society? In a way, I felt that the ending could almost be an attack on religion, showing it as nothing more than a pretty way of viewing a world as ugly as our own. I felt that the tarpauline served as a similar symbol. It was a feeling of security, something to stand on, but underneath was the violent truth of a deadly tiger. Perhaps it was our personal sense of security which is actually just thin and flimsy. When Martel doesn't slap us with his meaning, it is quite good.

I was simply not the intended audience for this novel. However, Martel has a positive message that he wanted to reach a wide audience in hopes to spread peace to a world badly in need of it, so I cannot be too harsh on him. He achieved his goals for the novel, but his novel did not reach my goals for literature. Still, this was a fun read and I would recommend it. Just ask yourself, ‘why read?’ and if the cons of this review outweigh the pros, then this novel is not for you. But if you desire something that will entertain, broaden your horizons of spirituality if you don’t know much about various religions, or reaffirm your faith, well look no further.
3.5/5

Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous possessive love that grabs at what it can.

Here's more tigers. Because you deserve them:


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Reading Progress

08/20/2012 page 19
5.0% 7 comments
08/21/2012 page 68
19.0% "Lesson learned, zoo animals will kill you"
08/21/2012 page 96
27.0% 14 comments
08/23/2012 page 163
46.0% "So, how big is this lifeboat?" 8 comments
08/25/2012 page 255
72.0% "Talking tigers tell tall tales" 2 comments
08/26/2012 page 356
100.0% "And then there were none.
Review to come, must digest first."
show 1 hidden update…

Comments (showing 1-50 of 268) (268 new)


message 1: by Inder (new) - added it

Inder Suri It's in my to-read list for long now .. But I am stuck with some other books of different genre,far away from Fantasy ..Will probably pick this up next month


s.penkevich I know what you mean, I've always meant to read it but other books came first. I was lent this so I figured I should actually tackle it so I can return it.


Garima One of my fav..though gets too elaborated for my taste at times, but worth for that delicious ending.


s.penkevich Garima wrote: "One of my fav..though gets too elaborated for my taste at times, but worth for that delicious ending."

I've been enjoying it so far, and I hear the ending is truely satisfying.


Garima s.penkevich wrote: I've been enjoying it so far, and I hear the ending is truely satisfying."

That depends on how one takes it as a reader. I know many who didn't like it. Do post your views on the same. There's a movie coming up too. I don't seem to leave movies apart from books, sorry! ha!


message 6: by Jason (last edited Aug 21, 2012 06:17AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jason Wait, who told you the ending was satisfying? The ending is horrifyingly, in-your-face, "fuck you, reader!"—the ending is certainly not satisfying! You're going to be pissed off.


s.penkevich Garima wrote: "s.penkevich wrote: I've been enjoying it so far, and I hear the ending is truely satisfying."

That depends on how one takes it as a reader. I know many who didn't like it. Do post your views on th..."


Yeah, just mentioning I was reading this resulted in a lot of back and forth about the book. I have people with opinions and tastes I highly respect that both loved hated and were just underwhelmed with the book. Made me want to read it more though just to see it for myself.


s.penkevich Jason wrote: "Wait, who told you the ending was satisfying? The ending is horrifyingly, in-your-face, "fuck you, reader!"—the ending is certainly not satisfying! You're going to be pissed off."

Spicey Scott said the end was amazing ha. Pissed off you say? Like Pissing Pi haha. Gah, I need to be reading not working, I want to know!


Jason No, I was really irritated. It totally makes the book, though.


s.penkevich Hmmm, now I'm even more excited. All the back and forth on this book makes me glad I'm reading it. So far so good. I do feel he could be a bit more subtle though, he keeps basically saying 'and that means this!'


Jason s.penkevich wrote: "he keeps basically saying 'and that means this!'"

What do you mean? Give me an example.


s.penkevich Oh sorry, i didn't catch this until now. I'll find some actual quotes but there was one part where the atheist science teacher goes to the zoo and says the name of scientists that pertain to an animals behavior. At the end of the paragraph he writes something to the effect of: he did because he liked life to have order.


s.penkevich I guess that's being nitpicky though, because I quite enjoy it. I just felt like, hey, I could have figured it out!


message 14: by Jason (last edited Aug 21, 2012 01:45PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jason No, okay, that's a good example. I was just curious what you meant because I know there is definitely stuff later that I felt does not get the "this means this" treatment but what you just mentioned is pretty minor in comparison. You'll see what I mean.

And by the way, you will review this. Don't think we're letting you off the hook!


Megan I'm going to agree with Jason on the ending it's a major "fuck you" but in a way thats what made me like the ending haha.


Megan and now you know why I couldn't live on a zoo... unless I could feed the giraffes cause they won't kill me... hopefully.


s.penkevich Jason wrote: "No, okay, that's a good example. I was just curious what you meant because I know there is definitely stuff later that I felt does not get the "this means this" treatment but what you just mentione..."

I decided I have to review this, I had a lot of thoughts brewing. I feel like the beginning is all the standard basic arguments so he can build to something larger now. I took a World Religion course once, it should have been a positive experience but instead it turned into people just arguing personal beliefs and it missed the point. Such as, it was annoying that when discussing any religion some people (one person in particular) would pipe in 'well that's not true because this is what it said in X holy book...'. Lots of palm to forehead in that class. I've been reminded of that a lot in this book, but in a positive way.


s.penkevich Megan wrote: "and now you know why I couldn't live on a zoo... unless I could feed the giraffes cause they won't kill me... hopefully."

We will just have a giraffe zoo. And ride them.... into battle!


Megan s.penkevich wrote: "Megan wrote: "and now you know why I couldn't live on a zoo... unless I could feed the giraffes cause they won't kill me... hopefully."

We will just have a giraffe zoo. And ride them.... into battle!"


And then take over the world! Tilly will be the giraffe trainer cause they are her giraffes.


message 20: by Jason (last edited Aug 21, 2012 06:53PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jason it's funny because i took a world religion class once, too, and it really opened my eyes to the similarities in other belief systems, and the peacefulness of them and what they teach. i looooved learning about Islam...i thought it was a beautiful religion. it's sad to see people associating Muslims with anti-peacefulness because that's so not what it's about at all.


s.penkevich Claro que si!

So are we super dorks seeing as I am both texting you and commenting to you on goodreads?


Megan I think you know the answer to that... and the answer is yes yes we are.


s.penkevich Jason wrote: "it's funny because i took a world religion class once, too, and it really opened my eyes to the similarities in other belief systems, and the peacefulness of them and what they teach. i looooved le..."

I totally agree. It's sad to see how religious rhetoric is used to fuel violence and wars. I like that this book tries to dissolve borders and misunderstandings in that way. Oh, and learning about buddhism changed my life a bit. I think some of the backlash to this book is a backlash to modern religion and all the connotations. You put it best when you said this is about spirituality not religion. I'll have to focus on that in a review, because I really wouldn't want to turn it into a theological debate or offend anyone accidentally.

Are you friends with Hend? She has taught me a ton about Sufism and Islamic tradition.


s.penkevich Megan wrote: "I think you know the answer to that... and the answer is yes yes we are."

you're right....


Megan s.penkevich wrote: "Megan wrote: "I think you know the answer to that... and the answer is yes yes we are."

you're right...."


It's alright though cause it actually means we are really really cool.


s.penkevich That's also true!


Stephen M Have you gotten to the three religion argument part yet? That's a great scene.

(view spoiler)


s.penkevich Stephen M wrote: "Have you gotten to the three religion argument part yet? That's a great scene.

[spoilers removed]"


Yes, got through that part yesterday. I rather liked it, I was saying to Jason how it reminded me of a World Religion class I took. The class was made up of super opinionated people that were sadly closed minded though, so that's what it reminded me of. I guess none of the arguments were new to me but it felt real because I've witnessed people make these same points.

Poor turtle.


Chance Maree I loved this novel, and the ending! Looking forward to your review.


s.penkevich Thanks, I'm hoping to finish this weekend. Funny, everyone mentions the end and either says 'i loved the ending' or 'the ending pissed me off'!


Jason That's because the ending is essentially the whole crux of the novel. It's like the entire point. Everything else is a side dish. You'll see, my friend. :)


s.penkevich Gah, I need to get off the computer and read haha


message 33: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj So, how big is this lifeboat? LOL


s.penkevich As big as the universe, Riku...
Nah, I kept picturing this tiny ass raft and somehow there were Zebras and hyenas and apes and tigers that could hide from sight for days and I couldn't get my head around that. Eventually he describes it, and peaking at the trailer made it make more sense. But back to the heavy handed metaphor, it's the whole universe man ha


Jason It's that tarpaulin that hides everything! What's that a metaphor for, I wonder?


Stephen M And he seems like at the mercy of the tiger. Hmmm.......


s.penkevich Hmmm... I was thinking the Tiger was just a life metaphor? Like, it's scary as shit and you have to tame it and take control to survive or it will crush you?


s.penkevich Jason wrote: "It's that tarpaulin that hides everything! What's that a metaphor for, I wonder?"

Perhaps, thinking out loud here, it is some sort of false security? Like our own little personal bubble that we have to gloss over all the dark realities of life. Like, hey you're safe, but really theres a f*cking tiger about to gut you.

Also, I must admit there was a time where I misread and thought, 'they have a trampoline on board?!'


Garima s.penkevich wrote: "Also, I must admit there was a time where I misread and thought, 'they have a trampoline on board?!"


Hahaha! that would have been the perfect setting for a circus.


Stephen M Well............. the tiger..............

The ending might put your mind onto some other things w/r/t the tiger and everything.

(view spoiler)


message 41: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Stephen M wrote: "Well............. the tiger..............

The ending might put your mind onto some other things w/r/t the tiger and everything.

[spoilers removed]"


Stephen, this is your thought after reading the ending? I would love to discuss the metaphors further after you both have finished the book. Don't want to spend the rest of my life hiding from crazed stalkers for spoiling a book.....


message 42: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary s.penkevich wrote: "Jason wrote: "It's that tarpaulin that hides everything! What's that a metaphor for, I wonder?"

Perhaps, thinking out loud here, it is some sort of false security? Like our own little personal bub..."


HAVE YOU FINISHED IT YET???? I AM DYING TO KNOW.....LOL.


message 43: by Stephen M (last edited Aug 26, 2012 12:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Stephen M I think by the end though, the metaphors were flexible and not necessarily "this exactly equals this" as some parts of the book seemed to be.

(view spoiler)

What did you think Riku? I'd love to see your review on it if you ever decided to write one :)


message 44: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Stephen M wrote: "I think by the end though, the metaphors were flexible and not necessarily "this exactly equals this" as some parts of the book seemed to be.

[spoilers removed]

What did you think Riku? I'd love..."


I would agree with your ideas... It leans heavily towards being a parable about parables. I have thought a lot about this book cos I wanted to write one like it :) Can't bring myself to review it though...


message 45: by Riku (last edited Aug 26, 2012 01:42AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj hey wait, which atwood is about that? I want to read it too!


message 46: by Nathan "N.R." (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis That tiger is really starting to sound like another animal-allegory cliche. A Puma would've been oh so much better. (Anyone read that CS Lewis series?)


message 47: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Nathan "N.R." wrote: "That tiger is really starting to sound like another animal-allegory cliche. A Puma would've been oh so much better. (Anyone read that CS Lewis series?)"

one word - geography


message 48: by Nathan "N.R." (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis Riku wrote: "one word - geography"

Fiction? Magic? Pumas are still better; I'll stand up for Pumas any day of the week. ; )


s.penkevich Stephen M wrote: "Well............. the tiger..............

The ending might put your mind onto some other things w/r/t the tiger and everything.

[spoilers removed]"


JUST finished. so this is my thoughts on that (view spoiler) Reviewing this is going to be hard. It'll be another day.


s.penkevich Nathan "N.R." wrote: "Riku wrote: "one word - geography"

Fiction? Magic? Pumas are still better; I'll stand up for Pumas any day of the week. ; )"


Especially Mike Pumas


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