Summary and book reviews of Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi

by Yann Martel

Life of Pi
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  • First Published:
    May 2002, 336 pages
    May 2003, 336 pages

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Book Summary

At once a realistic, rousing adventure and a meta-tale of survival that explores the redemptive power of storytelling and the transformative nature of fiction. It's a story, as one character puts it, to make you believe in God.  Winner of the 2002 Booker Prize.

Winner of the 2002 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Pi Patel is an unusual boy. The son of a zookeeper, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior, a fervent love of stories, and practices not only his native Hinduism, but also Christianity and Islam. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes.
The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them "the truth." After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional--but is it more true?

Life of Pi is at once a realistic, rousing adventure and a meta-tale of survival that explores the redemptive power of storytelling and the transformative nature of fiction. It's a story, as one character puts it, to make you believe in God.


My suffering left me sad and gloomy.

Academic study and the steady, mindful practice of religion slowly brought me back to life. I have remained a faithful Hindu, Christian and Muslim. I decided to stay in Toronto. 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...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
A Guide for Reading Groups

God, survival, and tiger behavior. It's hard to imagine a more invigorating combination of discussion topics. We hope that the following questions will enrich your reading of Pi's fantastic journey. After all, Pi didn't have to make his voyage alone; neither should you. May this guide serve as a pleasant companion.
  1. In his introductory note Yann Martel says, "This book was born as I was hungry." What sort of emotional nourishment might Life of Pi have fed to its author?

  2. Pondicherry is described as an anomaly, the former capital of what was once French India. In terms of storytelling, what makes this town a appropriate choice for Pi's upbringing?

  3. Yann Martel recalls that many Pondicherry ...
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    Man Booker Prize

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Media Reviews

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.

The Nation

If this century produces a classic work of survival literature, Martel is surely a contender.

Quill & Quire

Audacious, exhilarating . . . wonderful. The book's middle section might be the most gripping 200 pages in recent Canadian fiction. It also stands up against some of Martel's more obvious influences Edgar Allen Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, the novels of H. G. Wells, certain stretches of Moby Dick.

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.

National Post

[M]artel’s writing is so original you might think he wants you to read as if, like a perfect snowflake, no other book had ever had this form…. In Pi one gleans that faith — one of the most ephemeral emotions, yet crucial whenever life is one the line — is rooted in the will to live. In any event, when Pi does come to the end of his journey, he has it.

The Bookseller

Yann Martel's Life of Pi (Canongate) is another reminder of the largely unsung excellence of the Canongate list. The fiercely independent Scottish outfit remains an outpost of rare quality and distinction, and this exceptional understated novel is certainly a worthy addition to its output.... It would not be out of place on a Booker shortlist.

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.

Publishers Weekly

Martel displays the clever voice and tremendous storytelling skills of an emerging master.

Booklist - Will Hickman

If Martel's strange, touching novel seems a fable without quite a moral, or a parable without quite a metaphor, it still succeeds on its own terms. Oh, the promise in the entertaining Author's Note that this is a story that will make you believe in God is perhaps excessive, but there is much in it that verifies Martel's talent and humanist vision.

Library Journal - Edward Cone

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.


Life of Pi…is about many things — religion, zoology, fear — but most of all, it’s about sheer tenacity. Martel has created a funny, wise and highly original look at what it means to be human.

Noel Rieder, The Gazette (Montreal)

In the end, Life of Pi may not, as its teller promises, persuade readers to believe in God, but it makes a fine argument for the divinity of good art.

The Montreal Mirror

In many ways, Life of Pi is a good old-fashioned boy’s book full of survival, cannibalism, horror, math and zoology. An impressive marriage of The Jungle Book with Lord of the Flies, it’s the harrowing coming of age tale of a boy who survives for over a year in a lifeboat with a zebra, an organgutan, an hyena and a Bengal tiger.

The Vancouver Sun

[A]stounding and beautiful…The book is a pleasure not only for the subtleties of its philosophy but also for its ingenious and surprising story. Martel is a confident, heartfelt artist, and his imagination is cared for in a writing style that is both unmistakable and marvelously reserved. The ending of Life of Pi…is a show of such sophisticated genius that I could scarcely keep my eyes in my head as I read it.


Let me tell you a secret the name of the greatest living writer of the generation born in the sixties is Yann Martel.


Beautifully fantastical and spirited.

The Toronto Globe and Mail

Pi is Martel's triumph. He is understated and ironic, utterly believable and pure . . .

Author Blurb Albterto Manguel
Those who would believe that the art of fiction is moribund -- let them read Yann Martel with astonishment . . .

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

highly original, funny, thought-provoking
Life of Pi is the second novel by Canadian author Yann Martel. It tells the story the 227-day ordeal, in a lifeboat with a 450 pound Royal Bengal tiger, of a sixteen-year-old Indian youth, Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi). It is told in three parts: Pi’s ...   Read More


Very much a Moby DIck. Needed to review the essence of the book to understand the struggle of faith, reality, and how imagination unfolds our lives. Very entertaining. Growing up in Tanzania, I had international friends from many cultures, and went ...   Read More


Richard Parker
I adore this book. Richard Parker is the lover of life. He is the fighter, the believer and the will that continues to survive in the face of doubt. Whether he is a part of Pi or an enormous tiger, he has a tenacity for being, not just existing. I ...   Read More


Alter Ego
I think Richard Parker is Pi's alter ego. He needs him in order to survive. Pi is a good vegetarian boy and he needs the aggressive meat eater to stay alive. When he is training Richard Parker he is not wanting him to become dominant and take over ...   Read More

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