Life of Pi Book summary

Yann Martel



Life of Pi was not Yann Martel's first book but rather his third, which followed previous unsuccessful novels. In contrast to the author's previous works, Life of Pi was a commercial and critical success almost immediately after its publication in 2001. The book was awarded the prestigious Man Booker Prize, an annual award that recognizes the best book of the year by a writer from the commonwealth and Ireland.

Life of Pi is set in a rather controversial period of Indian history that is referred to as the Emergency. This was an eighteen-month-long dictatorship that was imposed by the then elected Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Ms. Gandhi had been undergoing litigation against a charge of electoral fraud for the 1971 general election, and just as the tide turned against her in the courtroom, Ms. Gandhi declared an Emergency that suspended civil liberties and gave her unprecedented powers. Pi's father decides that the political climate is far too tumultuous and decides to close down the zoo and emigrate to Canada.


Plot Summary

A struggling Canadian author travels to India to work on a book, but gives up the project as he takes to exploring the southern parts of the country. He encounters a man in a coffee shop who tells him a story that 'inspires belief in God,' and the author returns to Canada to meet Mr. Pi Patel, the subject of the tale he had heard. He interviews Pi and writes down his version of the story which he corroborates with the Japanese government.

Pi is a middle-aged man living in Toronto with his wife and kids, but he yet misses India, the country where he spent his youth. He is left psychologically marked by the ordeal he has had to experience as is evidenced by his habit of storing large quantities of food at home and being secretive about his family. Pi confesses that he misses Richard Parker who still preys on his mind so long after the conclusion of their journey. He begins by talking about being raised in the Pondicherry Zoo which was owned and operated by his father. Pi tells the author about the intricacies of animal psychology as he explains the advantages of zoos and how they benefit wild animals. Besides animals, Pi has always had a deep interest in religion, which is why he was not just Hindu, but also a Muslim and Christian. Pi's passion for theology seems to come naturally to him as he is raised in a mostly secular environment.

During his teenage years, Pi's family makes the decision of closing down the zoo and emigrating to Canada due to the troubling political climate of India which was being governed by a dictator at the time. The family boards a Japanese cargo ship with some of the animals from the zoo that are being taken to their buyers in America but the voyage is suddenly cut short as the ship begins to sink. Pi is separated from his family right before the ship sinks, and he finds himself in a lifeboat with Richard Parker the tiger, a hyena, an orangutan, and a wounded zebra. There are no other survivors from the sinking ship, and Pi is forced to confront the possibility that his family has perished along with the rest of the crew of the ship. The hyena acts oddly at first but within the first few days, the hyena kills both the Zebra and the orangutan. Pi gathers the courage to fight the animals but he then catches a glimpse of Richard Parker, who had yet remained hidden from view. The realization that there is a live tiger on the lifeboat drives Pi to action, as he searches the lifeboat to find a chest full of supplies designed to aid survival.

He creates a small raft for himself as he tries to create some distance between himself and the wild animals but before it is completed, the hyena attempts to attack Pi. The hyena is then killed by the Tiger, and Pi escapes to the nearby makeshift raft that he had hitched to the lifeboat. Initially Pi attempts to figure out how to kill the tiger, but when the tiger makes a gentle chuffing sound at him, Pi decides to tame the creature. He uses his experience from the zoo to create a territory for the tiger, as well as for himself which he marks with his own urine. Pi is forced to abandon his principles of vegetarianism to survive on the ocean, while he continues to develop a relationship with the tiger. He realizes that he has succeeded in training the tiger when it begins to hide his feces from Pi, which causes him great happiness. Pi spends a great amount of praying and working on his gear to ensure his continued survival even as he comes to terms with finding a way out for himself.

A storm causes Pi to lose his makeshift raft thus forcing him to live on the lifeboat which only becomes possible due to Pi's efforts in making the tiger acknowledge him as the alpha. Pi begins to run out of rations from the survival chest and is forced to live off the fish he catches, but these turn out to never be enough as both occupants of the boat begin starving. They are both made temporarily blind from malnutrition which is when Pi meets another castaway, a Frenchman, who tries to kill and eat Pi but Richard Parker kills the Frenchman. The boat continues to plod along with its current as Pi has no true means of steering and it reaches an island made entirely of algae. Pi and Richard Parker recover their health on the bizarre island with meerkats as its only occupants. However, Pi decides to leave the island when he discovers a tooth in an odd fruit leading him to conclude that the island was carnivorous. The next phase of their journey is just as trying as the first half so they are barely able to walk when the boat finally reaches a secluded beach in Mexico.

Pi and Richard Parker go their separate ways on the beach when the tiger takes to the forest immediately after finding land without ever glancing back at Pi. The author concludes Pi's tale and then provides a transcript of the interview that had occurred between Japanese ministry officials and Pi Patel after he had been rescued. The officials expressed disbelief at Pi's story, which angered Pi and he offered them a second version of the story. In this second version, Pi tells the officials that he had begun his journey on the lifeboat with a french cook, a wounded Chinese soldier, and his mother. The French cook had killed and cannibalized the sailor and later killed Pi's mother in front of him. Pi had then killed the man and continued to sail on the ocean until he had reached the Mexican beach. He then asks the officials to choose the story they wish to believe, and they choose to believe the story with the tiger.

  • Author(s)

    Yann Martel
  • Publication date

    September 11th 2001

  • Language


  • Classification

    Bildungsroman, Adventure Novel

  • Pages



Castaway, Religion, Atheism


Seal Books