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Life of Pi by Yann Martel



Life of Pi book cover Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Piscine Patel, the second son of a zookeeper, has grown up in Pondicherry in South India. Tired of being called “Pissing Patel” he changes his name to “Pi”, a move approved by his older brother. The sensitive and inquisitive teenage Pi, searching for religious truths, embraces the teachings and guidance he receives from Hindu, Christian, and Muslim holy men.

Pi’s father, fearful for his family’s future under the current Indian government of Indira Gandhi decides to move his family to Canada.The Patels depart from Manila on a Japanese cargo ship with many of their zoo animals when the ship inexplicably goes down in the South Pacific. Pi survives the sinking, but finds himself adrift on the open sea in a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger.


Book Club Ideas

Decorations

Since most of the novel takes place over the open sea, I would use sea blue as my theme color. The tablecloth in the Amazon.com link below reminds me a bit of the book cover of Life of Pi. You can also make (or purchase) your own fish and sea turtle decorations.

A Life of Pi book club party would not be complete without a tiger, orangutan, hyena and zebra.


Book Club Menu

Pi discusses his “magnificent” fantasy buffet after Richard Parker asks “What would you have to eat if you could have anything you wanted?”
Pi goes into great detail listing his favorite foods. I’ve included a few of Pi’s favorites below.

Read Pi’s Food Fantasy . . .

“What would you have to eat if you could have anything you wanted?”
“Excellent question. I would have a magnificent buffet. I would start with rice and sambar. There
would be black gram dhal rice and curd rice and—”
“I would have—”
“I’m not finished. And with my rice I would have spicy tamarind sambar and small onion sambar
and—”
“Anything else?”
“I’m getting there. I’d also have mixed vegetable sagu and vegetable korma and potato masala
and cabbage vadai and masala dosai and spicy lentil rasam and—”
“I see.”
“Wait. And stuffed eggplant poriyal and coconut yam kootu and rice idli and curd vadai and
vegetable bajji and—”
“It sounds very—”
“Have I mentioned the chutneys yet? Coconut chutney and mint chutney and green chilli pickle
and gooseberry pickle, all served with the usual nans, popadoms, parathas and puris, of course.”
“Sounds—”
“The salads! Mango curd salad and okra curd salad and plain fresh cucumber salad. And for
dessert, almond payasam and milk payasam and jaggery pancake and peanut toffee and coconut
burfi and vanilla ice cream with hot, thick chocolate sauce.”
“Is that it?”
“I’d finish this snack with a ten-litre glass of fresh, clean, cool, chilled water and a coffee.”
“It sounds very good.”
“It does.”
“Tell me, what is coconut yam kootu?”
“Nothing short of heaven, that’s what. To make it you need yams, grated coconut, green
plantains, chilli powder, ground black pepper, ground turmeric, cumin seeds, brown mustard
seeds and some coconut oil. You saute the coconut until it’s golden brown […] Have you ever
had oothappam?”
“No, I haven’t. But tell me about it. What is oothappam?”
“It is so good.”
“Sounds delicious. Tell me more.”
“Oothappam is often made with leftover batter, but rarely has a culinary afterthought been so
memorable.”

Mixed Vegetable Korma served over Cilantro Rice and with Parathas (an Indian flat-bread).

Vegetable Cashew Korma

Vanilla ice cream with hot, thick chocolate sauce

Vanilla Ice Cream with Hot, Thick Chocolate Syrup

Mr. Okamoto gives Pi cookies to coax his story from him, and since Richard Parker plays a huge role in Pi’s story, be sure to prepare a batch of tiger sugar cookies.

I kept things very simple with these cookies, opting for refrigerator sugar cookie dough which I cut into 1/4-inch thick rounds. I set aside some of the dough and formed ears to attach to the tiger’s head. I baked the cookies according to the package directions and, when cool, made my tiger face with black decorating gel and candy eyes which I found in the baking aisle of my local grocer.

Tiger Cookies

I highly recommend the delicious (and addicting) Bengal Tiger Cocktail to serve at your Life of Pi book club party. This cocktail combines the fruity flavors of pineapple, cherry, and orange. Also, for just the right touch, twist a black and an orange pipe cleaner together for a tiger’s tail to wrap around the stem of your cocktail glasses.

Bengal Tiger Cocktail

And, lastly …

Bananas Float

… bananas float!


Book Club Resources

Ratings at the time this post was published

Goodreads:  3.87 stars ( 959,365 ratings)
Amazon: 4.3 stars (6,447 ratings)
LibraryThing: 3.92 stars (10,589 ratings)
My Rating: 5 enthusiastic stars!  I listened to this book while on a long commute. When I finished, I had tears streaming down my face and I had to sit in silence for about 30 minutes to let it all sink in. One of my top ten books of all time.

Discussion Questions

Spoiler Alert: Discussion guide may contain spoilers to the book.

1. In his introductory note Yann Martel says, “This book was born as I was hungry.” What sort of emotional nourishment might Life of Pi have fed to its author?
2. Pondicherry is described as an anomaly, the former capital of what was once French India. Do you think the town made a significant difference in Pi’s upbringing?
3. In the Author’s Note, Mr. Adirubasamy boldly claims that this story “will make you belive in God,” and the author, after researching and writing the story, agrees. Did Pi’s tale alter your beliefs about God?
4. Chapters 21 and 22 are very short, yet the author has said that they are at the core of the novel. Can you see how?
5. Early in the novel, we discover that Pi majored in religious studies and zoology, with particular interests in a sixteenth-century Kabbalist and the admirable three-toed sloth. In subsequent chapters, he explains the ways in which religions and zoos are both steeped in illusion. Discuss some of the other ways in which these two fields find unlikely compatibility.Read more . . .


6. In the Author’s Note, Martel wonders whether fiction is “the selective transforming of reality, the twisting of it to bring out its essence.” If this is so, what is the essence of Pi and of his story?
7. There is a lot of storytelling in this religious novel. Is there a relationship between religion and storytelling?Is religion a form of storytelling? Is there a theological dimension to storytelling?
8. Pi’s full name, Piscine Molitor Patel, was inspired by a Parisian swimming pool that “the gods would have delighted to swim in.” The shortened form refers to the ratio of a circle’s circumference divided by its diameter, the number 3.1415926…, a number that goes on forever without discernable pattern, what in mathematics is called an irrational number. Explore the significance of Pi’s unusual name.
9. One reviewer said the novel contains hints of The Old Man and the Sea, and Pi himself measures his experience in relation to history’s most famous castaways. How does Life of Pi compare to other maritime novels and films?
10. How might the novel’s flavor have been changed if the sole surviving animal had been the zebra with the broken leg? Or Orange Juice? Or the hyena? Would Pi have survived with a harmless animal or an ugly animal, say a sheep or a turkey? Which animal would you like to find yourself with on a lifeboat?
11. In chapter 23, Pi sparks a lively debate when all three of his spiritual advisors try to claim him. At the heart of this confrontation is Pi’s insistence that he cannot accept an exclusively Hindu, Christian, or Muslim faith; he can only be content with all three. What is Pi seeking that can solely be attained by this apparent contradiction? Is there something commmon to all religions? Are they “all the same”? If not, how are they different? Is there a difference between faith and belief?
12. What do you make of Pi’s assertion at the beginning of chapter 16 that we are all “in limbo, without religion, until some figure introduces us to God”? Do you believe that Pi’s faith is a response to his father’s agnosticism?
13. Among Yann Martel’s gifts is a rich descriptive palette. Regarding religion, he observes the green elements that represent Islam and the orange tones of Hinduism. What color would Christianity be, according to Pi’s perspective?
14. How do the human beings in your world reflect the animal behavior observed by Pi? What do Pi’s strategies for dealing with Richard Parker teach us about confronting the fearsome creatures in our lives?
15. Besides the loss of his family and possessions, what else did Pi lose when the Tsimtsum sank? What did he gain?
16. Nearly everyone experiences a turning point that represents the transition from youth to adulthood, albeit seldom as traumatic as Pi’s. What event marked your coming of age?
17. How do Mr. Patel’s zookeeping abilities compare to his parenting skills? Discuss the scene in which his tries to teach his children a lesson in survival by arranging for them to watch a tiger devour a goat. Did this in any way prepare Pi for the most dangerous experience of his life?
18. If shock hadn’t deluded him, do you think Pi would have whistled and waved at Richard Parker? What would you have done?
19. Pi imagines that his brother would have teasingly called him Noah. How does Pi’s voyage compare to the biblical story of Noah, who was spared from the flood while God washed away the sinners?
20. Is Life of Pi a tragedy, romance, or comedy?
21. Pi defends zoos. Are you convinced? Is a zoo a good place for a wild animal?
22. What did you think of Pi’s interview with the investigators from the Japanese Ministry of Transport? Do you think Pi’s mother, along with a sailor and a cannibalistic cook, were in the lifeboat with him instead of the animals? Which story do you believe, the one with animals or the one without animals? When the investigators state that they think the story with animals is the better story, Pi answers “Thank you. And so it goes with God.” What do you think Pi meant by that? How does it relate to the claim that this is a story “that will make you believe in God”?
23. The first part of the novel starts twenty years after Pi’s ordeal at sea and ends with the words “This story has a happy ending.” Do you agree?
(Discussion Questions from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Purchase Life of Pi at your favorite bookseller

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The Author

Author Life of Pie

Photo by Danielle Schaub

The award-winning author of four books, the most recent of which is What Is Stephen Harper Reading?, Yann Martel is one of this country’s most interesting and surprising writers. Born in Spain in 1963, Yann grew up in various places as the son of diplomats. His parents now live in Montreal, where Yann visits regularly. He won the Journey Prize for the title story in The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios. Life of Pi was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. It was the winner of the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction as well as the Man Booker Prize. Yann lives with writer Alice Kuipers and their son, Theo, in Saskatoon. ~Randomhouse.com

Other Works by Author and Recommended Reading

Personal Insights, Favorite Quotes, etc…

There are so many great passages in Life of Pi.

I love this passage where Pi sees Orange Juice floating up to the lifeboat on the bananas.

She came floating on an island of bananas in a halo of light, as lovely as the Virgin Mary. The rising sun was behind her. Her flaming hair looked stunning.

Here are three more passages from the indomitable Piscine Molitor Patel.

But I don’t insist. I don’t mean to defend zoos. Close them all down if you want (and let us hope that what wildlife remains can survive in what is left of the natural world). I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both.

Richard Parker has stayed with me. I’ve never forgotten him. Dare I say I miss him? I do. I miss him. I still see him in my dreams. They are nightmares mostly, but nightmares tinged with love. Such is the strangeness of the human heart.

But even wild animals that were bred in zoos and have never known the wild, that are perfectly adapted to their enclosures and feel no tension in the presence of humans, will have moments of excitement that push them to seek escape. All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.

The special effects in Ang Lee’s 3D movie adaptation of Life of Pi (December 2012) are breathtaking.

Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for Life of Pi? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.



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