Dedicated to classics and hits.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Life of Pi (2001) by Yann Martel

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Life of Pi (book) was an unexpected hit in 2001.  A decade later, the Ang Lee directed film made 600 million world wide.
Book Review
Life of Pi (2001)
by Yann Martel

  Life of Pie was THE left-field break out hit in the field of literary fiction, originally published by Knopf Canada (Martel is Canadian) and going on to sell over 10 million copies world wide.  It also won the Booker Prize in 2002 making Life of Pie a rare concurrent popular and critical hit at the time it was originally published.  The success of the book was mirrored by the success of the movie, a 120 million dollar budgeted, Ang Lee directed spectacle that was probably the first and only Booker Prize winning novel to have a movie that was screened in IMAX 3D.  Life of Pi, the movie, grossed 600 million world wide, 80 percent of that amount outside of the United States.  Truly, Life of Pi is a perfect example of the modern phenomenon of the "international best-seller" with all the bells and whistles.

  I've personally been avoiding everything to do with the Life of Pi for no good reason than it's popularity.  I instinctively distrust best-sellers, and I wasn't even aware of the Booker Prize win until I finished listening to the 12 hour audio book version I checked out from the Los Angeles Public Library using their excellent Overdrive app.  An app, I might also mention, which allows you to listen at anywhere from .6 to two times the speed of the narration.  Being able to speed up an 11 hour audio book is crucial, particularly when hours of it feature a young Indian boy alone on a raft in the middle of the Pacific, with only a tiger for company.

   I would be honestly embarrassed to read a book version of Life of Pi at this point, so the audiobook was a god send.  Speeding it up using the Overdrive app made it a pain free experience, and Life of Pi certainly has it's moments.   Life of Pi is something like a Robinson Crusoe tale.  Press materials play up the fantastical elements, but that fantasy only goes about as far as Jule Verne or H.G. Wells- no wizards, fairies or interplanetary travel, just a kid on a raft with a tiger.

  There is also a healthy introduction detailing Pi's childhood in the former French colonial city in India, Pondicherry, where Pi's dad owns a Zoo.  I found myself wondering, four or five hours in, when he was going to actually get onto the raft with the Tiger.  Once it happened, however, I could see where Martel won over both critics and fans.  "Serious fiction with a heart and a sense of wonder!" I can almost hear readers exclaiming.

   I can also understand why the Wikipedia page leads with the fact that several publishers passed on the chance to publish Life of Pi before Knopf Canada picked it up.  If you got the elevator pitch for Life of Pi you might snort in disbelief.  Especially when you heard that the writer was Canadian and not Indian.  But it all works, Pi, the character is just charming as hell, and Martel has done such a good job with his research, and has such a thorough understanding of his prospective audience, that I could only shake my head in wonder when I got to the end- of the audio book- I still wouldn't be caught dead with the book in my hands.

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