She came floating on an island of bananas in a halo of light, as lovely as the Virgin Mary. The rising sun was behind her. Her flaming hair looked stunning.
I cried, “Oh blessed Great Mother, Pondicherry fertility goddess, provider of milk and love, wondrous arms spread of comfort, terror of ticks, picker-up of crying ones, are you to witness this tragedy, too? It’s not right that gentleness meet horror. Better that you had died right away. How bitterly glad I am to see you. You bring joy and pain in equal measure. Joy because you are with me, but pain because it won’t be for long. What do you know about the sea? Nothing. What do I know about the sea? Nothing. Without a driver this bus is lost. Our lives are over. Come aboard if your destination is oblivion—it should be our next stop. We can sit together. You can have the window seat, if you want. But it’s a sad view. Oh, enough of this dissembling. Let me say it plainly: I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you. Not the spiders, please.”
It was Orange Juice—so called because she tended to drool—our prize Borneo orang-utan matriarch, zoo star and mother of two fine boys, surrounded by a mass of black spiders that crawled around her like benevolent worshippers.
from Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
Life of Pi is, for the most part, about the extraordinary circumstances of a precocious young Indian boy, Piscine Patel. When traveling by ship from India to his new home in Canada, the ship inexplicably sinks, leaving himself as the only survivor. The only human survivor, that is.
This is also my literary fiction choice for The Eclectic Reader’s Challenge 2012.
The story begins with the author struggling to write a novel when he comes across the inspiring story of Pi. Interspersed throughout the boy’s narrative from the early 70s are glimpses of the present Mr. Patel from the author’s viewpoint, now married and living in Canada.
The narrative from Piscine’s point of view is engaging from the start, well before his adventures adrift in a lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean. He’s presented as observant, intelligent, and unapologetically idealistic—all traits that serve him well during his coming ordeal. In short, he’s one of the most likable characters I’ve encountered in a long time.
It’s also made apparent that he’s managed to retain much of his idealism, thanks to the briefly-presented encounters between him and the author in the present.
I sincerely can’t find anything that I could describe as “bad.” This was a truly delightful read.
I read a Kindle version of the book, which was produced by a mainstream publisher. There were no typos or editorial issues that I can recall. I do have two small nits to pick, however.
First, the edition that I read was touted as being illustrated, yet there were no illustrations to be found. This is, of course, a minor issue that had absolutely no effect on the readability of the novel. I do know, however, that it’s possible to embed graphics in Kindle books, so their absence was disappointing.
The second issue had to do with formatting toward the end of the book. There’s a place where, while recuperating in a hospital in Mexico, Pi is visited by two representatives of the company that owned the sunken ship. They’re Japanese and have had a difficult journey to the hospital, and the ensuing interview is among the most humorous parts of the story. At the beginning of this section, there’s a note by the author that conversation between the two representatives in Japanese would be presented in a different font face—something which is also possible within a Kindle ebook. In this edition, however, there was no change at all. Although it wasn’t too hard to figure out which parts of the dialogue were asides in Japanese, it was a bit distracting.
Both of these issues involve reading the book in the Kindle app on my Android phone, and I was unable to peek at the code in the book to see if these features were actually present but just being rendered incorrectly, so it’s possible that reading on a Kindle device would be more complete experience.
Throughout the novel, Pi’s faith in his ability to survive strengthens, while his faith in who he believes God to be rarely wavers. And it’s clear that those faiths remain with him in the present day. This is definitely a five-star novel.