Thursday, May 3, 2007

Book Review: The Life of Pi

Since Yann Martel's appearance at last year's NCTE conference, we've seen a big uptick in teacher interest in his book The Life of Pi, winner of the 2002 Man Booker Prize, though many teachers still aren't familiar with this fun story, and some with just a back-cover knowledge may have put it aside (or considered adding it) to their classroom, when it might be a good (or bad) choice.

Summary: Pi Patel is a young man growing up in a zoo in India. In the first third of the book (my favorite part) we find Pi wandering the streets of India getting to know many holy men, and becoming a devote of Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. He gets himself in trouble because he doesn't feel that these religions are mutually exclusive, while everyone else tells him he must choose one faith and follow only that faith.

When Pi's family plans to move their zoo to Canada, they board a ship for the journey. Caught in a storm the ship goes down, and when the chaos ends, Pi finds himself aboard a life raft with an Orangutan, a hyeena, and a Bengal tiger. The bulk of the story involves young Pi's survival at sea on a life raft on a tarpaulin over the head of a 400 lb. Bengal tiger. His ingenuity and faith keeps him alive for 227 days as he fishes, not only for himself, but also for his tiger.

The story eventually gains a bit of a surrealistic quality, and I won't spoil the ending, but you'll be left wondering at the end what's real and what's imaginary.

While I'd recommend the book to many classrooms, and as far as I remember, there's little or no foul language, there is a bit of cannibalism that might come as a bit of a shock to some readers. The story, however, is told in a delightful way that will really interest most of your students, and there's really something in here for everyone.


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