How would you feel if you suddenly found yourself shipwrecked, your entire family lost at sea, and only a small lifeboat keeping you from the swirling waters of the deep?
Later, when the storm and your terror finally subside, you look around in the hazy glow of dawn to see your only companions in the boat are an injured zebra, a ferocious Bengal tiger, a female orangutan, and a bloodthirsty hyena.
That’s what happened to sixteen-year-old Pi Patel, the novel’s protagonist, who suddenly finds himself a castaway when the cargo ship carrying his family from India to a new life in Canada suffers an explosion during a storm in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and sinks with a “monstrous metallic burp”.
Pi tells us about other famous castaways like the true life Robertson family who survived thirty-eight days at sea, and the fictitious Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty, who, along with his fellow shipmates survived forty-seven days. But Pi’s ordeal lasts 227 days, almost seven months—an amazing feat indeed— testament to the power of the human spirit to resist death and despair.
As the son of a former zookeeper in his native Pondicherry, India, Pi is no stranger to the ways of wild and exotic animals.
But like the reader, he too is shocked and sickened when the hyena cruelly attacks the wounded zebra and begins devouring it alive, while the orangutan shrilly screams in protest.
As a devout Hindu, Pi is a committed vegetarian, though in his own unique fashion, he has also converted to Christianity and Islam.
He reviles the hyena for consuming the helpless zebra, and later, Orange Juice, the unfortunate orangutan, but though he finds some survival rations on board the lifeboat, he too will soon be forced to eat the animal flesh, as well as raw fish and sea turtles, to ward off starvation.
Soon the hyena will meet the same grisly fate as a meal for Richard Parker, and Pi will be all alone with no one but the ravenous tiger for company as he floats helplessly through shark-infested waters.
Will poor Pi be Richard Parker’s next meal when the tiger’s hunger becomes unbearable?
This is just the start of Pi’s fantastic voyage, but he will eventually arrive at a distant shore, only to discover it is a malevolent man-eating island inhabited by millions of meerkats, and fish abounding in freshwater ponds.
This book is full of surprises, not the least of which is an amazing alternate ending that will leave you wondering about the abiding conflict of man versus nature, the elusive quality of truth, the mysterious relationship between the physical and spiritual worlds, and the awesome power of a well told tale.
Interesting Fact: Before Yann Martel created the Richard Parker character as a 450 pound Royal Bengal tiger, Richard Parker figures prominently in Edgar Allen Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. In Poe’s novel, Parker is a young sailor who becomes a castaway with three others when the ship is wrecked. In a desperate bid to avoid death by starvation, he suggests that they draw straws to see which one will give up his life to provide sustenance to the others. Ironically, Parker draws the shortest straw, is immediately killed, and over the course of many days is eaten by his fellow castaways.
Interesting Fact: There is also a true historical precedent for Richard Parker, who set sail from England bound for Australia in 1884. The ship was wrecked, and Richard Parker was one of only four castaways who survived. After 18 days at sea, the three older seaman decided that Parker, who was already delirious and near death, should be sacrificed for the others’ survival. When these three were rescued and returned to England, they were famously tried for, and found guilty of murder—an unusual outcome in cases of cannibalism in times of urgent distress at sea.
What do these two Richard Parkers have in common with Yann Martel’s fictional tiger? You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens to him, as well as his heroic young companion, Piscine (Pi) Molitor Patel.
Through comic books and movies we’ve grown familiar with fictional superheroes such as Spiderman, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. But have you ever stopped to think about the many real life heroes who risk their lives daily to rescue strangers from the brink of death?
In Carolyn Matthews’ non-fiction work, True Stories of Rescue and Survival: Canada’s Unknown Heroes you will read thrilling accounts, past and present, of breathtaking escapades from across the country.
Jason Brown, a young helicopter pilot is stranded in a fierce Arctic blizzard and forced to make an emergency landing on a frozen lake just a few hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle. If he cannot be reached in time, his ‘coptor will become his icy coffin.
Near Squamish B.C., two experienced mountain climbers find themselves clinging to a rocky ledge when one of them falls 70 feet down a frozen mountainside and is badly injured.
When a crab boat catches fire off the coast of Newfoundland in 1823, the six fisherman have no choice but to jump into the frigid waters of the North Atlantic sea and hope for rescue before they drown or die from hypothermia.
In Fredericton, New Brunswick, four-year-old Ritchie Stockton wanders into a dark, dense woods near his home, while his frantic mother is left wondering for the next two days whether she will ever again see her son alive.
In these and 7 other stories, you will meet some of the greatest unsung heroes of our nation: officers of the R.C.M.P., as well as members of a wide range of search and rescue teams (S.A.R.) who put their lives on the line every day.
Who survives? Who perishes? Despite their valiant efforts, do the rescue missions ever fail? What factors determine who lives and who dies? Read this exciting book to find the answers, and along the way learn dozens of fascinating facts about rescue and survival.
About the Author: Yann Martel The award-winning author of four previous books, the most recent of which is What Is Stephen Harper Reading?, Yann Martel was born in Spain in 1963. He studied philosophy at Trent University, worked at odd jobs - tree planter, dishwasher, security guard - and travelled widely before turning to writing. He was awarded the Journey Prize for the title story in The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios. His second novel, Life of Pi, won the 2002 Man Booker, among other prizes. Yann Martel lives in Saskatoon with the writer Alice Kuipers and their son.
Other Books by Yann Martel: Seven Stories (1993) The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios (1993) Self (1996) We Ate the Children Last (2004) Beatrice and Virgil (2010)
About the Author: Carolyn Matthews Carolyn Matthews, a former registered counsellor and nurse, was born in New Zealand. She now writes full time. Her articles have appeared in The Globe and Mail and the National Post. She lives in Toronto.
Other Books by Carolyn Matthews: To the Rescue! True Stories of Tragedy and Survival Heroic Rescues at Sea: True Stories of the Canadian Coast Guard
Cool Connections Find out more! Contact these authors by clicking on the pictures below, and tell them what you think about their books.
These are two terrific books! But don’t just take my word for it. Read the Reviews! Here’s what others have to say about True Stories of Rescue and Survival: Canada’s Unknown Heroes “Forget Hollywood celebs and music stars, the real role models for our youth are the men and women who keep us all safe. Carolyn Matthews’ new book, True Stories of Rescue and Survival: Canada’s Unknown Heroes, showcases 22 Canadians who have shown tremendous courage and compassion in the face of danger” - (from Canadian Living magazine,) May, 2009 "If it is human nature to want heroes," the author says, "then perhaps it is possible to influence who we choose. These stories are an attempt to do just this." - The Voice, Toronto March, 2009
“Carolyn Matthews is very familiar with her topic. In her new book for young adults, she introduces the reader to 22 men involved in search and rescue, members of military, civilian, coast guard and police units specially trained in high-risk recovery. She blends the lively dialogue of those involved with her own narrative, situating the events in the larger context of her celebration of the bravery of search and rescue technicians. Sidebars are used to provide details – how search dogs are trained, a description of the appeal of a Labrador, a history of the Canadian Coast Guard etc. Matthews’ aim is not only to celebrate, but to encourage young readers to consider such a career themselves.” - Quill and Quire, April issue.
This is what the critics say about Life of Pi “A story to make you believe in the soul-sustaining power of fiction.” --Los Angeles Times Book Review “Life of Pi is a real adventure: brutal, tender, expressive, dramatic, and disarmingly funny.” --San Francisco Chronicle “If this century produces a classic work of survival literature, Martel is surely a contender.” --The Nation
Suggestions for Further Reading Fiction The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, by Edgar Allen Poe Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway The Life and Voyage of Christopher Columbus, by Washington Irving Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe Mutiny on the Bounty, by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
Suggestions for Further Reading Non-Fiction Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, by Piers Paul Read Touching the Void, by Joe Simpson Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster, by Jon Krakauer The Wreck of the Whaleship “Essex”, by Owen Chase Survive the Savage Sea, by Dougal Robertson