When Pi finds himself the sole survivor of a sunken ship, he is tasked with assisting two Japanese reporters comprehension of how the ship came to sink. The first story he tells includes a Royal Bengal Tiger mistakenly named Richard Parker after his captor, who Pi, initially fearful of, manages to tame. Also inhabiting the sanctuary of the lifeboat are a cowardly, crafty hyena, a graceful Grants Zebra and a peaceful, civilised Orangutan.
The first story, unique fabulous as it is, is unable to placate the reporters incessant questioning, particularly as Pi explains his discovery of a carnivorous floating island the lures prey in by day and devours it by night. Unable to suspend their disbelief sufficiently to accept story 1, Pi tells story number 2, in which the animals from the initial story come to represent human counterparts.
In this story, Pi is the tiger, the hyena is the ships brutal cook, the zebra the gracious sailor isolated by a language barrier and the orangutan is Pi’s mother. This story, brutal, bleak and nihilistic and with no sense of wonder is barbaric, cannibalistic and dismal, contrasting sharply and jarringly with the vivacity and escapism of his previous tale.
Neither story illuminates how the ship came to sink nor sooths or eases Pi’s lengthy, inhumane suffering so Pi asks them which of the two stories they prefer. The reporters conclude that the first of the stories is more appealing, despite its implausibility.
The lure of this book is its inherent mystery and the questions it generates. Which story is true? Did Pi concoct the first story in order to psychologically defend himself and gain an acceptance of the horrific occurrences on the life boat? Or did he fabricate the second story in order to craft a succession of events more in line with the realism demanded of Pi by the reporters?
The author invites readers to decide for themselves which story they personally believe, or want, to be true. There is a difference here, between the prettier and the uglier story, and the story that speaks to your inner sense of the understanding of the world. The first story has a clear connection to religious perspectives and leaps of faith required and the second story correlates to reason and atheism.
Simplistically but stylistically written, Pi’s suffering sharply contrasts the innocence of a young shipwrecked orphaned boy at sea ‘coming of age’ with the merciless assimilation into an animalism necessary for survival.
Vibrant, vivid and memorable, Pi’s misery and wonder slosh and spill from the pages. Life of Pi seems reminiscent of the shipwreck genre (Castaway, Lord of the Flies) and regenerates it with a fresh perspective.