Life of Pi

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Life of Pi

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Juin 19, 2008, 12:46pm

I just read about this one on another board.

My town used Life of Pi as it's One City, One Book book. I got a copy, read the back cover (in which is was compared to Old Man and the Sea, which I hated) and I think that turned me off the book. I started it, but kept thinking "If this is a man in a boat book, no thank you." I couldn't get past that. I still own it. Is it worth my time?

Juin 19, 2008, 12:56pm

I know I'm in the vast minority here, but after about 50 pages, I chucked it at the wall. I almost never quit a book, but this one just irritated the living daylights out of me. I know everyone raves about the ending, but I can't imagine it would be worth my time to get to it.

I'm sure it's a good book, it just did not suit my preferences.

Juin 19, 2008, 1:02pm

>1 kaelirenee:: I read and liked both books, but it would have never occured to me to compare the two. I liked them for completely different reasons and disliked different things. Sure, they both have the ocean and a man/kid on a boat in them, but other than that, they don't have that much in common. In my opinion at least. So I wouldn't give up on Life of Pi because you hated The Old Man and the Sea. You may still not like it, but I wouldn't toss it aside just because of that comparison.

Juin 19, 2008, 1:19pm

The one time I read Old Man and the Sea, around high-school graduation +/- 4 years, I didn't much care for it. I enjoyed Life of Pi more. I guess I would say that I remember Old Man as a weighty book, and Pi as more fluffy. Compared to Pi, Old Man seems more prosaic; compared to Old Man, Pi seems more marvelous and/or fantastic.

Juin 20, 2008, 3:14am

Message 1: The two book are nothing alike. Also, I liked Life of Pi much better than The Old Man and the Sea.

Message 2: The ending really is pretty good, but it isn't going to impress you if you didn't like the first fifty pages of the book.

-- M1001.

Juin 20, 2008, 3:44am

So, which story in Life of Pi did everyone choose to believe?

Juil 15, 2008, 1:15pm

I liked Life of Pi very much and would highly recommend it. However, I don't feel I "got it". What does the flesh-eating island represent? Everything that Martel includes in his narrative is of significance to the story, but it takes a bit of flexible-thinking to piece it all together. I may have to go back and read it a second time with the ending in mind. What are some of your thoughts?

Juil 16, 2008, 6:35pm

#7. The Wikipedia article explains the story nicely (except for the island). The island doesn't mean anything; Martel is just pushing the fantasy to an extreme to make sure that those readers, who do not get the point much earlier, understand that the whole tiger story is a fanciful allegory.

#6. I fail to see how anyone could claim to believe the first story. You might, perhaps, prefer it as a work of fiction to the second story, but preference is a long way from belief. Unless, of course, you have had as much practice as the White Queen and can believe six impossible things before breakfast.

Juil 17, 2008, 8:38am

The copy I read had some discussion questions in the back, and an interview with Martel in which he said the book was a story to make you believe in God (or something like that). When I first read the discussion question that identified chapters 21 and 22 (or whichever they were) as being fundamental to appreciating the work, my reaction was, "Huh??" But upon reflection, I think I understand Martel's point. As a story to make you believe in God, it is interested less in the nature of God than in the nature of belief. The 'real' story is the same one as in Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?": which is to say, it depends upon the reader. More to the point, perhaps, is whether or not it matters what the 'real' story was.

I prefer to believe the first story.

Juil 17, 2008, 11:15am

I agree with lue42, I don't see how you can claim to believe a story which is clearly a fantasy.

I am really at a loss to see how Life of Pi says anything useful about belief in God. It contains two survival stories, one an allegory, the other a literal telling. Pi asks the Japanese which one they prefer (note prefer not believe). They prefer the allegory. Then Pi says "So it is with God" and so they are asked to associate God with an allegory and belief in God with a preference for allegories over literal truths. It may not matter to them, but to me religion is more than an allegory and belief is more than a preference. God must be the literal truth, an essential part of what Pi disparagingly calls the 'dry, yeastless factuality' of reality.

Juil 17, 2008, 11:25am

The book is a novel, no? So how does the question of "literal telling" even enter into consideration?

Modifié : Juil 17, 2008, 12:28pm

Yes, Life of Pi is a work of fiction; maybe its purpose should be restricted to entertainment. But some claim this is a story that will "make you believe in God". That it is a fiction is exactly my point; what has a fiction to do with belief? How can you believe a fiction? How can a fiction "make you believe in God"? In the context of this particular fiction, there are embedded fictional and literal versions of a story and the fiction within a fiction is associated with belief in God. Are we meant to conclude that God is doubly fictitious?

Juil 17, 2008, 1:17pm

You're too smart for me. All I can say is, the fictional nature of the novel overrides the natures the alternative stories in it, as far as I'm concerned. Did Alice actually go to Wonderland, or was it just a dream? I prefer to believe she actually went to Wonderland.

As for Pi's (or any novel's) relevance to any philosophical question, their value (to me) lies in the thinking they make me do rather than in their particular stories.

Juil 17, 2008, 5:35pm

I wonder if there is some confusion about the two meanings of believe. Saying you "believe Alice actually went to Wonderland", I think you meant "hold as an opinion that" (as in "I believe that we've already met") not "accept as true the statement that" (as in "I believe that 2+2=4"). And by "believe she actually", you mean that you hold the opinion that the author meant us to conclude that she ...

The statement "I believe that God exists" can thus mean either "I accept as true that God exists" or "In my opinion, God exists". I assume that Martel is attempting to lead us towards the first alternative because the second would not be a very interesting philosophical point. Trying to illustrate the first meaning of believe by contrasting a preference of an allegorical story to a literal story makes no sense at all.

I am also in favor of works of fiction prompting philosophical thoughts, but when the work takes an obviously dubious philosophical position, as does the Life of Pi, the merit, reasoning and motive of the work should itself be questioned.

Juil 18, 2008, 9:52am

I, too, recognize two senses of belief; to me they are "belief in" and "belief that." The former, as in "belief in God," has nothing to do with facts. The latter, as in "belief that evolution occurred," has much to do with them. But, in Pi, the facts are fictional. *All* of them.

Further, internal to the novel itself (that is, as far as Pi himself is concerned), there is no *reason* to believe that the first story is allegorical. That is a conclusion reached by some readers based on their experience of their real world. You can say that if Pi believed the first story to be the factual one then he must be crazy, and if someone told that story in our real world I would probably agree with you. But, again, in the book, all of the "facts" are fictional. *All* of them. So one is faced with the question of what, in the story of Pi, 'actually' were the "facts."

Although I said before that I understand Martel's comment about the book being one to make you believe in God I think it has more to do with the nature of belief than the nature of God, I do not think that the book was advocating any philosophical position, dubious or not, on either. Rather, it presented a story, and then left it to the reader to account for it. It's like a ko-an, in which the question (or the story) is not the point, the accounting for it is. Am I wrong? Who is anyone else to say? That's my take on it, and it makes sense to me. It doesn't matter to me what Martel (or Carroll) may have meant for anyone to conclude, and even if it did I would only accept *their* word for what that may have been.

I think we're going to have to agree to disagree (it's not that I think you're wrong so much as that you're missing the point of the book).

Modifié : Juil 18, 2008, 9:55pm

An interesting and thoughtful reply.

(At the horrible risk of wandering way off-topic, I would put your "belief in God" in the same category and my "belief that 2+2=4" and your "believe evolution happened" in the same category as my "believe we've met". The first are facts, the second opinions --- well evolution is a theory (and no, I do not doubt the validity of the theory of evolution). You can be certain about the first, but only pretty sure about the second.)

I may well be missing the point of the book in that I am still unsure what the point is. To get back the the theme of the group/thread which is "Someone explain it to me..."; is the point of Life of Pi "to account for the story"? If so, I am not sure I know what that means.

But I agree that one point of the book is "about the nature of religious belief". Where I must have gone astray was in that dreadful muddle about what is "fact" and what is "fiction". My reaction is due to my great discomfort with that muddle and it seems to me that one must be entirely comfortable with ambiguity to appreciate the novel. Martel does more than just raise a philosophical question, he comes firmly down on the side of "fiction" rather than "dry, yeastless factuality" and puts God on his side. And it's that philosophical position I react against. I am firmly on the side of "factuality" (but reject the "dry and yeastless" modifiers). I put religious belief on my side too, on the side of "fact" not "fiction".

Jan 21, 2009, 12:19pm

Life of Pi Discussion Questions

1. A central theme is that belief in something implausible is to be preferred to 'dry yeastless factuality'. Compare and contrast this mindset with the mindset of investors in the recently collapsed Madoff's investment firm.

2. Describe the mechanics by which a tiger could get from the ocean into a small life boat and then conceal itself under a tarpaulin.

3. During a shipwreck, the procedure should be "Orangutans and Tigers first" rather than "Women and Children" first. Discuss.

4. A priest, an imam and a pandit walk by the sea and meet an atheist. In turn, imagine and describe the disappointment they each experience when they realize Pi has forsaken the true path of their respective faiths.

5. The first part of the book contains many descriptive passages on various topics, for example the speed at which a sloth moves or the quality of water in Parisian swimming pools. Pick one of these topics and expand at length.

from here

Jan 21, 2009, 1:44pm

#8: lue42 "The island doesn't mean anything; Martel is just pushing the fantasy to an extreme to make sure that those readers, who do not get the point much earlier, understand that the whole tiger story is a fanciful allegory."

No!, please say it's not true. I've been pondering the island ever since I read this, trying to figure out what was going on. I figured it must be some commentary on pollution, modern consumerism, or US society or something like that. Maybe not...

PS - Shouldn't we have a SPOILER ALERT somewhere high-up in this thread?

Jan 21, 2009, 4:24pm

Yes, it's true.

"Q: I believed it all, up until the island and the meerkats, and then my suspended disbelief started to wobble earthwards... did you intend to create that effect in the reader? To see how far they would follow you?

YM: Yes, I did. I wanted to push the reader till he/she was forced to make some leap of faith. If the island didn't do it, then I hoped the second story would."


Jan 22, 2009, 5:20pm

I will start by saying that I loved this book, it was one of my top 5 fiction reads for 2008.


I think the second story is true, and the first story is a coping mechanism by Pi to deal with what is a truly horrendous situation. However, I don’t think it really matters which story is true. It is a work of fiction and as a reader, you can believe what you like. As I was reading it, before I knew the ending, I just took it as true & possible that a boy & a tiger could survive in a life raft. Likewise with other stories, like Alice in Wonderland & The Lion the witch & the wardrobe, I just go along for the ride. Lions can’t talk, there isn’t a magical world in the back of my cupboard and rabbits don’t talk to me about weird things. But when I am reading those books and in those worlds those things are true. For me that’s the point of reading.

Regarding the island, I figured if everything else is true, then why not the island. Once I knew the ending, I thought it symbolised the whole horribleness of it all.

Jan 22, 2009, 7:42pm


What a nice way of putting it! If only every reviewer had your common sense view of the book. That applies to the author as well, who expounds about the "deep" postmodern religious message revealed by the text. It should, as you say, be categorized as a fantasy adventure story for children with Alice in Wonderland, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, although of course, it is nowhere near their quality and contains too much horror and graphic detail to recommend it to sensitive younger readers.

Modifié : Jan 28, 2009, 8:38pm

In Life of Pi, Martel's central thesis is that the tiger story is the "better story". That we should accept it even though it is hard to believe because "love, life and God are also hard to believe". That we should not be satisfied by a "dry, yeastless factuality".

Those three themes "better story", "hard to believe" and "dry, yeastless factuality" recur throughout and are the core of the novel. I disagree strongly with all three.

The "better story" is the second story, the one without the tiger. It's way more plausible, shorter and taut.

"Love, life and God are also hard to believe" doesn't make sense as a statement. It's bad English. You can't believe a noun, you believe a statement or the person who makes that statement. You can believe in a noun or believe that a noun exists. In fact it's easy to believe in love or life and God; millions do it every day.

"Dry, yeastless factuality" is countered by "truth is stranger than fiction". There are more wonders in the world of facts than can be dreamt of by a creator of fiction. Factuality is stuffed full of juicy yeasty mysteries.

In its three main themes, the Life of Pi is plainly wrong.

Jan 28, 2009, 9:59pm

#22 lue42 - I think that is a bit simplified. I don't think it's really important which is the better story. For the book to work we needed to hear both stories and then we needed to compare them against each other.

Also, I don't think the themes of the book should be broken down as real-vs-fact, or that some things are hard to believe (in). The first story is perhaps strange, and not everyone will like it. But, if the second story is true, then the first story takes on several new lives. It becomes the metaphors discussed above. It also become the tool Pi used to maintain his sanity. His survival was completely dependent on his ability to change his experience into an alternative fiction.

In this sense that first story is about the power of fiction (to Pi) and the power of belief (to Pi). Not all of us will agree with this, but not all of us have spent an extended amount of time floating alone and aimlessly in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Martel gives us a the opportunity to imagine Pi's trials in different colors, and perhaps to wonder how we might respond in the same situation. I think the success of the book is largely dependent on whether Martel left you with something to think about.

Jan 29, 2009, 8:53am

>22 lue42:

Jan 29, 2009, 10:19am


By "power of fiction (to Pi)" do you mean his tendency to denial and delusional fantasy and by "power of belief (to Pi)" do you mean his extreme gullibility? Neither traits should be celebrated.

Jan 29, 2009, 1:26pm

Yes and no.

You might replace "power of fiction" with "power of delusion." I wouldn't use the "power of extreme gullibility", as that just doesn't seem to work here. He probably had a very firm faith in the value of his story. But, it does have to do more with irrational belief or faith than with gullibility.

Regardless, I think I just mean Pi had an interesting way of surviving the whole ordeal.

Jan 29, 2009, 5:12pm

So what is this "power of belief" if it is not gullibility? This seems to be a key message, one that the story is supposed to illustrate. I still don't get it.

Jan 29, 2009, 6:54pm

lue42 - I think I need to throw the question back at you. I'm not sure why you insist belief would equal gullibility. They don't mean the same thing. What are you getting at?

Jan 29, 2009, 11:04pm

Belief does not equal gullibility. Belief is accepting a statement as true or being persuaded by an argument. Someone who has a tendency to believe things that are not true is gullible. If "power to believe" means something other than "a tendency to believe things that are not true", what does it mean?

Jan 30, 2009, 9:19am

Ok, that's not how I understand gullible - just semantics maybe. To me gullible means easily tricked and manipulated. I don't think that applies because Pi wasn't tricked; he found a delusional method of survival - the delusion was his own creation.

Is a key theme the "tendency to believe things that are not true"? Yes, that theme is there in variant forms.

"power of belief" is another misunderstanding - bad phrasing on my part. I meant that in Pi's story, his belief in the value of his story helped him survive - therefore this belief was powerful.

I guess what I'm getting at above is that it's not important whether or not Pi was delusional'; and that this book is not a commentary on humanity's stupidity. I think the book explores these themes and concludes that there is something of value to some kinds of unfounded beliefs - or at least that there may be.

Jan 30, 2009, 10:07am

I am glad that you agree with me that Pi was delusional; that doesn't seem to be a commonly held view. Can a delusional belief ever be useful? I would argue not. It is always better to face the truth, however bleak. Your conclusion, that there may be something of value to some kinds of unfounded belief, I maybe can agree with, but not if that belief is in something as implausible as Pi's tiger story. Wouldn't it have been better for Pi if he accepted what truly happened? I understand that exposure therapy is an effective way to treat post traumatic stress disorders.

Modifié : Jan 30, 2009, 10:20am

I really enjoyed the book... although i think the flesh eating island went a bit too far, it spells out the message too clearly. You have no way of knowing that a flesh eating island does not exist. You can take a cynical approach, assuming (with no good reason) that the flesh eating island does not exist, and you face some great bleakness. Or you can take a positive approach, and accept that it does exist... and it makes your life brighter.

So, some people tell you that God does exist, some people tell you that He does not exist... but you have absolutely 0%, no way of knowing which is true. So you can choose not to believe, and face all that bleakness, or you can accept that God does exist, and have a brighter life. No skin off my back to believe, so might as well go with the positive option.

Modifié : Jan 30, 2009, 10:23am

#31 "Wouldn't it have been better for Pi if he accepted what truly happened? "

Well, he did accept it in his own way. However, without his delusion, isn't he as good as dead?

#31 "Your conclusion, that there may be something of value to some kinds of unfounded belief, I maybe can agree with,"

My vague-ness was intentional ;)

ETA reference message, I hadn't seen post #32 when I posted.

Jan 30, 2009, 10:26am

#32 "So, some people tell you that God does exist, some people tell you that He does not exist... but you have absolutely 0%, no way of knowing which is true. So you can choose not to believe, and face all that bleakness, or you can accept that God does exist, and have a brighter life."

I'm not ready to go there, but I just want to say that's a suspect statement.

Jan 30, 2009, 10:32am


"However, without his delusion, isn't he as good as dead?"

Why? He survived. He made up the tiger story after he survived, no?

Jan 30, 2009, 11:39am


I fail the see how thinking a flesh eating island exists makes my life brighter. I have good reasons for thinking that swimming tigers can't get into lifeboats (basic laws of mechanics) and that flesh eating islands don't exist (it's too far outside of experience of biology).

Jan 30, 2009, 12:43pm

#35 - er, well, what we have are the stories he gave. But, I don't think we know when he came up with them. Maybe I'm wrong here. Anyway, I assumed he "lived" in the first story at some point, that he needed that alternate reality in order to survive. He was stranded alone on the boat a long time, so it seems reasonable that his sense of reality might alter quite a bit over time.

Modifié : Jan 30, 2009, 1:42pm

When the delusions started is probably less interesting than whether they were a good thing or not. I think that delusions are a bad thing, whenever they occur.

But I am guessing that your response is not typical. It seems that many think that the tiger story is true, which makes no sense to me whatsoever.

Août 22, 2011, 2:53pm

I read the book twice. The first time, I believed the first story as I read it -- not really thinking there was an alternative until more than 1/2 way along. The second time, I read it with the second story fully in mind and it was a very different reading experience.

As for the island, I didn't get it either time and found it rather boring.

I like the way Martel said that believers and athiests have more in common than either have with agnostics because only the agnostic hasn't taken a "leap of faith" regarding the existence of God.

Modifié : Oct 19, 2011, 5:30pm

The beginning of Life of Pi seems kind of stale and boring, but it's worth is as you get into part two. The book progresses into un-imaginable concepts and ideas and ends with a mind-boggler. Definitely worth the wait.

Nov 23, 2012, 11:39pm

I just read the book and saw the movie. I think the real question is would you not have believed the first story if he didn't give you an alternative. It's kind of like if Alice from Alice in Wonderland also gave you an alternative story about her mother killing her older sister and forcing her to eat her sister's heart and her father being too timid to do anything about it, oh yeah, and she had a pet rabbit and a cat. Or if at the end of Miracle on 34th Street, they reveal that Chris Kringle had been abused and locked in a toy factory as a child. (And everyone suspends belief for Miracle on 34th Street. You have to be cold-blooded not to.)

#38 I'm not of the belief that delusions are always a bad thing, if you've ever been in a extremely bad situation, they can sometimes be the only things that gets you through it. Just because something is true, doesn't make it helpful. Just because something is false, don't mean it is without benefit or power. The United States was founded on the words of people like Thomas Paine and Samuel Addams who wrote about independence, justice, human equality, etc., but the reality was they just didn't want to be overtaxed and they weren't above lying about the British to get their way. Still, the words had power.

Sometimes reality isn't all that great--that's probably one of the reasons fiction exists. It's cheaper than spending thousand of dollars on therapy.

For all we know, the truth could be a third, separate story or even a combination of the two he gave. Or, the first story could be partially true, and partially a delusion or hallucination.
Either way, Pi seems to have turned out fine, and in the end, the story gives him peace.

Nov 28, 2012, 10:19pm

Good post Dreac,

To me, the one statement the main character makes at the end of the movie sums it all up. He says "which story would you rather believe?" and then "religion is the same way".

This means that although it is likely false, just like the main character's story with the animals, religion is a more interesting and exciting story than reality. If you had the choice, would you rather believe in a world where you die and are gone forever (reality), or one where you die and go to this awsome place called heaven (fake awsome story with animals)? It doesn't matter what you believe because either way your dead. Similarly, whatever story you believe, his ship sunk and his family is dead.

To me the book isn't literally supposed to make you believe in religion like many people going to the movie seem to believe. Its just supposed to make you realize that believing in the fake awsome story of religion can help you cope and can make life seem better.

Nov 29, 2012, 12:20am

DreaC - if this was Facebook, I would have liked your post.

Fév 27, 2014, 2:00pm

All I know is that by the time Pi and the tiger were on the raft, it seemed to go on and on endlessly with Pi avoiding the tiger, moving form one corner of the raft to another. Bleh! That's when I gave up.

Juin 24, 2014, 6:47am

I think, after the first 50 pages, you'll be able to tell right away if you'd like to continue reading it. For me, it was a little interesting, a little inspiring, a little thought provoking... and only about 20% of it made me want to chuck it against the wall. Are you in to movies? You can watch the adventure there in about 1.5 hours instead. I was happy I read the book though, by the time I got to the end that is.

Juin 24, 2014, 10:35am

I, in fact, read it twice. Once believing each of the interpretations.

Modifié : Août 26, 2014, 9:39am offers an analysis, and had this to say about the island and what it represents:

"The floating island symbolizes Pi’s own despair. As Pi notes, it would not have killed him immediately had he stayed; rather, it would have eaten away at his soul, deadening his spirit and causing a numbing hopelessness. The carnivorous vegetation represents Pi’s pessimism, his dwindling hope that he will ever be found. To stay on the island would be to give up, to decide to end his days on a man-eating island rather than in civilization. Pi’s choice to leave the island and get back into the ocean is his way of remaining optimistic, however minutely, about his odds of salvation."