Yann Martel's Life of Pi is a national bestseller that received critical acclaim, and was awarded the 2001 Hugh MacLennan Prize and the 2002 Man Booker Prize. More importantly, this book is one of the most engaging and thought-provoking books I have ever read, and is well deserving of all of its accolades. And, to quote the back cover, it will make you believe in God.
Life of Pi is a story in three parts about the early Life of Piscine Molitar Patel, an Indian boy who moves to Canada. No, wait, keep reading! It's not a boring coming-of-age story.
Part one focuses on Pi's early life in Pondicherry, India, living with his family by the Pondicherry Zoo. His father is the zookeeper, you see. Despite his parent's attempt at being thoroughly modern and therefore agnostic, Pi is a very spiritual boy. He becomes a Hindu devotee, a devout Christian, and a strict Muslim, all at the same time. Of course, there is an inevitable confrontation. We also meet Mr. Kumar, one of Pi's teachers who is an atheist. At the end of part one we think "how very nice, but this doesn't make me believe in God".
Part two focuses on sixteen-year-old Pi's time at sea, alone in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orang-utan, a zebra, and a Royal Bengal tiger. What? It makes perfect sense! I told you, his father was a zookeeper. Actually, so much of the magic of Life of Pi lies in Yann Martel's ability to weave such an improbable story, and yet describe it in such detail that it seems very real. Every action is necessary and logical in Pi's day to day survival. We watch as he fishes, purifies seawater for drinking, and feeds the tiger. At the end of part two, we think "gee, that was a great book, but what's this got to do with God?" That's why there's a part three...
As for part three, it consists of a recorded interview with Pi Patel soon after his adventure at sea. It is the shortest part, about 30 pages, and yet it unifies the previous two parts and makes you believe in God, but only if you are paying attention. You'll know you've got it when the hairs on your neck stand up.
Describing Life of Pi is an extremely difficult thing to do. There are so many details that I don't want to spoil, and whenever I try to protect these things, any sort of review merely becomes me going "hey, read this book it's really really good and it makes you believe in God!" And, well, it is and it does, so read it.