Pi (short for Piscine Molitor Patel) is a young Indian boy growing up in South India in the 1970's. His father owns a zoo and, with increasing political unrest in India, decides to sell up and emigrate to Canada. In true Noah's ark fashion, they accompany the wild animals on board the ship on their journey to the new zoos in North America.
The ship sinks and Pi finds himself the only human survivor onboard a life raft that contains, rather remarkably, a zebra, a large motherly orangutan, a frenzied hyena and... a 450 pound Bengal tiger.
Of course, the law of nature eventually rules and Pi ends up as the tiger's last remaining occupant. He must use all his knowledge of zoology and animal behaviour to create boundaries and survive. Which he does for 227 days.
A far fetched survival at sea story? Yes - but much more than that. Life of Pi asks many questions of life, survival, belief, faith and the importance of imaginative story telling.
Should fiction be believable? A lot of comments that come into this website seem to rate fiction on whether it is believable and realistic. Martel sets out in this novel to argue the case for imaginative fiction -" to not sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality"
Life of Pi makes the reader question whether this is imaginative or real life fiction. The story of Pi's survival is, on the one hand, a classic high-sea survival account, a gruelling tale of one boy's survival at sea on a raft against all that nature throws at him. The author is constantly reminding the reader that the real character of Pi is alive and well and living happily after his ordeal in Montreal.
On the other hand, our credulity is constantly questioned. By the time we have read about the floating weed island with its quiet secret and the meeting with the blind Frenchman, we have our doubts but we still want to believe. The final twist at the end, where Pi placates the doubting officials with a more credible version, adds...