Yann Martel’s Life of Pi: Surviving against all odds

This entry is part 4 of 17 in the series Reviews Season Four

Last Updated on January 19, 2019 by Memorila

Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, a travel and adventure novel, narrates how men need each other in solitary moments to survive, Ubaji Abubakar Ishaq Eazy reviews

Wait! Permit me to guess what you are thinking. Do not say it yet…I know. Ehm…you are about to say you have seen the movie, right? Got ya! Well, I have just read the novel itself and come to think of it, why do people always prefer the movie version of novels to the actual books? I remember my university days when William Shakespeare’s Macbeth was recommended for study and how most of my mates went looking for the film version to watch. Has it become so difficult to read books? My special thanks go to the lecturer who rewarded most of them with an F in the exams, haha!

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Well, I have seen the movie versions of Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and I must admit that the stories died in the hands of motion pictures, the stories were rushed and I could not flow with the emotional sensation that came with reading the actual stories (I caught myself almost crying while reading Long Walk to Freedom and celebrated Mandela’s freedom). What the movie does is to take the action and leave the philosophy behind. I must however stand fast to salute whoever produced the movie version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; the movie is impressive.

As for the movie, Life of Pi, much of the actions were lifted from the novel and the philosophy was left aside. Nonetheless, the movie also cut out the unnecessary lectures on seafaring which almost marred the novel. I think one of the major impediments the movie world will keep having when converting a novel into a movie is in the aspect of characterisation. While both movies and novels might through different means make us see a character physical make-up for instance, the movie can not provide us with an in-depth analysis of the character’s mind and thinking the way a writer would spell them out on paper. Well, enough of the comparison, before you think I am trying to put down the movie world so books can reign supreme.

Now, think of waking up suddenly on a floundering ship and next thing you know is that you are bundled off into a lifeboat not because the sailors are thinking of saving your life but as an offering to a hyena which had somehow found its way onto the lifeboat. And as if this is not enough, you are joined by a rat, a zebra, an orangutan, and…a royal Bengal tiger!

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Okay, that is scary right? Now, the hyena gets hungry and you are just a small guy with no weapon to face it, but the hyena goes first for the zebra, saving you for worse days ahead. With zebra gone, the hyena goes next for the orangutan and you know immediately that you are next. But Tiger comes and saves the day by killing hyena yet you know Tiger is a bigger threat than even a hyena for without food, it will surely come for you and it would be more vicious than the hyena.

You look around and find out that you are alone with Tiger in the middle of nowhere on the Pacific ocean and your last thoughts are those of how to survive the ocean in a small boat while ensuring that the tiger does not make you its dinner. Hardly a palatable situation for one to find himself in right?

Yet, this is the story of Piscine Molitel Patel (aka Pi), a young Indian boy, who finds himself stranded on the Pacific ocean with a royal Bengal tiger as the only companion. How he survives for over two hundred days (with the tiger) is a miracle.

The tale tells of how we need each other in solitary moments, how man can relate with his environment and its other inhabitants (animals), each going and coming without hurting each other, and most importantly, it tells of how we need each other to survive without knowing it for strangely enough, it is the tiger’s will to kill at any moment that keeps Pi alive till the very end of the ordeal.

While the story might not have had the same effect of uniting three different religions; as Pi does; becoming a Christian, Muslim, and Hindu, all at the same time; it certainly had the effect of reaffirming the soul sustaining and magical power of fiction.

I must say that I love the framed narrative technique employed by the writer who begins the story and then hands over to Pi to relate his experience to us, very much like that of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

The interlude employed to show how many days was consumed in telling the story is also a nice idea but towards the end the story ran on and on without the interludes coming in as frequently as it appeared at the beginning.

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Maybe I do not also like the authorial intrusion I came across in the story. You see, the interludes I can understand as part of the story and still flow with them but there are times when the narrator leaves his story to lecture us about animal behaviour or survival tactics on the sea, those to me are unacceptable. There are several books on seafaring should I want them, these are examples of authorial intrusions that would have better been incorporated into the story via ‘action’ and not mere talk like the part when the older Pi left the story and began giving advice on how to survive on the sea.

However, it is quite a scintillating and amusing story, one which I shall place among great travel and adventure novels as Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver Travels, and of course William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

It is a great movie, I must admit, but the book version is far better.

Series Navigation<< Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer’s Between the Lines: Murdering our “Happily Ever After”Breaking barriers and pushing the frontiers of language: A review of Mutiu Olawuyi’s “The Blotted Pawpaw” (A story without verb) >>

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy holds a degree in English language and literary studies. He is a short story writer, copy editor, book reviewer, literary critic, poet, and essayist. He teaches English as a Foreign Language in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

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