This is an exceptional novel. The story of a young man facing terrible odds, lost at sea. What begins as naive hope slowly transforms into a steely resolve to survive.

Pi Patel’s journey to Canada, to begin a new life, is cut short when the Japanese cargo ship his father has booked passage on suffers a fatal hull breach and sinks in a matter of minutes. He alone survives.

In his native India his family owned a small zoo. As they prepared to emigrate, they sold most of the animals, and those that remained were making the trip to Alberta with them.

It is by now, no secret that Pi must learn to co-exist with a 450 pound Bengal tiger. It takes all the skills he has acquired as a zoo-keeper, to keep the tiger, and himself fed, without actually being fed to the tiger.

A substantial portion of this book is the recollection of his childhood in India. He is a bookish boy with a thirst for spiritual knowledge and his pursuit of Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, is tolerated by his liberal indulging parents.  In his maritime exile, he finds that his spirit sustains him as much as his physical efforts do.

An element of uncertain existentialism creeps over Pi as he languishes between sky and water. The continuing challenge of keeping the tiger not only at bay but subservient takes a toll on his psyche even as it provides the necessary impetus to not back down nor give up. At one point he realizes that if he dies, the tiger will certainly die, and if the tiger dies, he will have no reason to persist.

in a sense, not one word is spoken from the time Pi climbs into the life raft and he is discovered on a deserted beach seven months later. But the internal discourse between man and nature is more elegant than could ever be expressed in words. Pi and tiger are bound by the profound silence of a vast ocean.

At some points in the narrative you wonder if any of this could possibly be true, even in fiction. How much are we willing to believe? Is there any extravagant detail that would be too much for us to accept? What is it exactly that we want to believe, and why? Why, if one tale is so much more rational, would we choose to believe another more capricious tale instead?

This is a question the reader must answer alone.  Leave the question aside until you have finished Pi’s extraordinary tale of survival of the fittest, in more than just body and spirit.

Yann Martel’s story telling is lush and colorful, from his descriptions of the sea and sky to the interactions between boy and tiger.

If you appreciate Yann Martel’s story telling, you may also appreciate Beatrice and Virgil a most unlikely pair with a most unlikely story.