Book Review: “Yann Martel’s LIFE OF PI: Surviving Against all Odds” by Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy

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Wait! I can guess what you want to say. Do not say it yet… I know. Ehm…you want to say you have seen the movie, right? Got ya! Well, I have just read the novel itself and come to think of it, why do people always prefer the movie version of novels to the actual books? I remember my university days when William Shakespeare’s MACBETH was recommended for study and how most of my mates went looking for the movie version to watch, has it become so difficult to read books? My special thanks goes to the lecturer who rewarded most of them with an F in the exams haha!

Well, I have seen the movie versions of Nelson Mandela’s LONG WALK TO FREEDOM and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s HALF OF A YELLOW SUN and I must admit that the stories died in the hands of motion pictures, the stories were rushed and I could not flow with the emotional sensation that came with reading the actual stories (I caught myself almost crying while reading LONG WALK TO FREEDOM and celebrated Mandela’s freedom). What the movie does is to take the action and leave the philosophy behind. I must however stand fast to salute whoever produced the movie version of JRR Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS, the movie is impressive. As for the movie LIFE OF PI, much of the action were lifted from the novel and the philosophy was left aside. Nonetheless, they movie also cut out the unnecessary lectures on seafaring which almost marred the novel. I think one of the major impediment the movie world will keep having when turning a novel into a movie is in the aspect of characterisation. While both movies and novels might through different means make us see a character physical make up for instance, the movie can not provide us with an in-depth analysis of the character’s mind and thinking the way a writer would spell them out on paper. Well, enough of the comparison before you think I am trying to put down the movie world so books can reign supreme.

Now think of waking up suddenly in a sinking ship and next you know is that you are bundled off into a life boat not because the sailors were thinking of saving your life but as an offering to an hyena which had somehow found its way into the life boat. And as if this is not enough, you are joined by a rat, a Zebra, an orangutan, and a royal Bengal Tiger! Okay, that is scary right? Now, the hyena gets hungry and you are just a small guy with no weapon to face it, but the hyena goes first for the Zebra, saving you for worse days ahead. Zebra gone and the hyena goes for the orangutan and you know immediately that you are next. But Tiger comes and saves the day by killing hyena yet you know Tiger is a bigger threat than even an hyena for without food, it will surely come for you and it would be more vicious than the hyena. You look around and find out that you are alone with Tiger in the middle of nowhere on the Pacific ocean and your last thoughts are that of how to survive the ocean in a small boat while ensuring that the Tiger does not make you its dinner. Hardly a palatable situation for one to find himself in right? Yet, this is the story of Piscine Molitel Patel (aka Pi), a young Indian boy, who finds himself stranded on the Pacific ocean with a royal Bengal Tiger as the only companion. How he survives for over two hundred days (with the Tiger) is a miracle. The tale tells of how we need each other in solitary moments, how man can relate with his environment and its other inhabitants (animals), each going and coming without hurting each other, and most importantly, it tells of how we need each other to survive without knowing it for strangely enough, it is theĀ  tiger’s will to kill at any moment that keeps Pi alive till the very end of the ordeal. While the story might not have had the same effect of uniting three different religions; as Pi did and became a Christian, Muslim, and Hindu, all at the same time; it certainly had the effect of reaffirming the soul sustaining and magical power of fiction.

I must say that I love the framed narrative technique employed by the writer who begins the story and then hands over to Pi to relate his experience to us, very much like that of Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS. The interlude employed to show how many days was consumed in telling the story is also a nice idea but towards the end the story ran on and on without the interludes coming in as frequently as it appeared at the beginning. Maybe I do not also like the authorial intrusion I came across in the story. You see, the interludes I can understand as still part of the story and still flow with them but there are times when the narrator leaves his story to lecture us about animal behaviour or survival tactics on the sea, those to me are unacceptable. There are several books on sea-faring should I want them, they are example of authorial intrusion that would have better been Incorporated into the story by action and not mere talk like the pact when the older Pi left the story and began giving advice on how to survive on the sea.

However, it is quite a scintillating and amusing story, one which I shall place among great travel and adventure novels as Daniel Defoe’s ROBINSON CRUSOE and Jonathan Swift’s GULLIVER TRAVELS, and of course William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES.

Photo credit: https://booksandrandomthoughts.wordpress.com

About the Reviewer

eazy

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Language and Literary Studies. He is a literary critic and reviewer, poet, story writer and copy editor. He currently serves as the Chief Editor at literarycriticsandwriters.simdif.com.