By Chet Yarbrough
Life of Pi
By Yann Martel
Narrated by Jeff Woodman
Yann Martel (Author, Spanish-born Canadian)
News of Irrfan Khan’s passing today reminds all who saw “Life of Pi” or “Slumdog Millionaire” of his gifts as an actor. He died at the age of 53 from a neuroendocrin tumor on April 29, 2020.
Symbolism is a part of “Life of Pi” but it makes little difference to a reader or listener who is looking for an enjoyable fictional adventure. Most listeners will be fascinated and absorbed by Yann Martel’s writing and Jeff Woodman’s narration.
Pi’s father sells his business. He owns a zoo in Mumbai. By ship, he is transporting his family and the zoo animals to North America when disaster strikes.
Martel successfully suspends disbelief in a story about a boy from India who survives a ship wreck in a life boat with a tiger, a zebra, a hyena and an orange orangutan.
As with all ship wreck and life boat stories, the immediate concern is food and water for survivors, of which there is only Pi and four zoo animals.
Survival of the fittest becomes a suspenseful part of the story. The orangutan’s name is Orange Juice. Names for the hyena and zebra fall into the fog of a listener’s memory. The tiger’s name is Richard Parker.
This odd menagerie winnows down to the boy and the tiger but, along the way, one learns something about truth and relationship.
Martel describes Pi’s early life as the son of a zoo keeper and owner in Mumbai, India before a fateful voyage to Canada. By telling of Pi’s early life, Martel creates a background that makes Pi’s successful management of his crowded life boat believable.
Pi is born a Hindu but becomes interested in Christianity and Islam to the extent that each allows him to love God.
Pi’s concatenation of faiths is a foretelling of how Pi handles the loss of his family, survival in a hostile environment, and tolerance for life’s ambiguities.
Fascinating tales of survival of the fittest are followed by an equally interesting story of how Pi gains respect and control of an increasingly hungry and thirsty tiger.
In the course of the story, Richard Parker and Pi find an island populated with meerkats and flesh eating plants. They eventually escape the island, and–well, you have to read the story.
Pi is obviously rescued–after all, he is telling the story.
The Japanese government interviews Pi to determine what happened to the ship that was lost and how Pi survived 227 days on the high seas. Pi tells an incredible story. Naturally, the government officials disbelieve him.
Pi creates another less interesting story. This new story becomes the official record. A listener is left to believe Pi’s story, or not. Pi’s story is like every report given by one person to another when there are no witnesses.
“Life of Pi” is a fun ticket to entertainment.