Life of Pi, Yann Martel, Harcourt Inc, 2001 319 pp
I finished this book several weeks ago, so some of the impact has faded, but it was a large impact at the time. I dreamed about it all night after finishing it right before bed.
The story begins in India when Pi is a young boy. His parents own and run a zoo, so he grows up surrounded by hundreds of animals from all over the world. He is a bookish boy, taunted by his schoolmates and given to spiritual yearnings. By the time he is a teen, he is a practicing Christian, Muslim and Buddhist.
But hard times come and his family decides to emigrate to Canada. The animals are sold to other zoos and they set out on an ocean journey with some of the animals, which are bound for America, on board. Their ship is a Japanese freighter and sinks. Pi is left on a lifeboat with a hyena and a Bengal tiger for company.
He spends seven months on that lifeboat and manages to survive, living on fish and learning to use the meager emergency supplies he finds. Alone with the tiger, who would eat him in a heartbeat, Pi uses his knowledge of animals to keep the beast at bay, while he practices his three religions to keep from succumbing to hopelessness.
Martel writes the book as though it were Pi's true story but according to interviews he made up the whole thing. Some people found all kinds of symbolism in the story, others found it to unbelievable. I just let myself be completely taken in and marvelled at the contrasts between faith and despair. It is one of the best books I've read so far this year. I don't know how I missed reading it for seven years with everyone telling me how great it was. They were right.