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Free Study Guide for Life of Pi by Yann Martel-Book Notes/Summary
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The Better Story

The predominant theme is the concept of the “better story”, in other words, the importance of telling a good story. Life itself is a story and one can choose his own story. The “better story” is the more imaginative one and, according to Pi, the one God would choose as well. One must have faith in something beyond bare logic.

Science and Religion

A minor theme is the reconciliation of science and religion as ways to understand the world. Pi meshes the two in order to survive 227 days on the lifeboat. He ends up majoring in both zoology and religious studies.

Religious Syncretism

Another minor theme is the syncretism, or union of the seemingly opposing principals, of religions. As different as Pi’s three religions are, they all involve a personal relationship with God. They are blended into Pi’s own unique spirituality and remain with him as an adult.


The novel is divided into three parts and the mood changes as one part transitions to the next.

In Part One, the mood is wondrous, full of the embarrassments and marvels of childhood. It changes to a spiritual mood as Pi gets older, discovers multiple ways to know God, and prepares for the journey to Canada.

Part Two deepens the spiritual mood, but as time goes on and Pi’s situation becomes more and more life-threatening, the mood changes to desperation.

In Part Three the desperation remains as Pi tries intently to get the Japanese representatives to believe his story. The desperation turns to satisfaction when Pi is finally able to make his point.


Yann Martel is a Canadian author who was born in Spain on June 25th, 1963. His parents were there while Martel’s father was on a scholarship to complete his doctorate. Martel’s family traveled a lot because his father was a teacher and a diplomat. Martel therefore grew up in Alaska, British Columbia, Costa Rica, France, Ontario, and Mexico.

He attended Trinity College School in Port Hope, Ontario from 1979 to his graduation two years later. He continued on and studied philosophy at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. While beginning his writing career, Martel took various jobs such as tree planting, dish washing, and working as a security guard. He has been living off his writing since the age of 27. Yann Martel currently lives in Montreal. In addition to writing, he practices yoga and volunteers at a palliative care unit.

As an adult, Martel has traveled to Iran, Turkey and India. To write Life of Pi, he spent six months in India visiting zoos, temples, mosques, and churches. He interviewed the director of the Trivandrum Zoo. To create his main character, Pi, Martel immersed himself in the Indian culture. He then returned to Canada to research Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, as well as animal psychology and disaster/castaway stories. The subsequent writing of Life of Pi took two more years.

Works by Yann Martel include: The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatio (short stories, 1993), Self (novel, 1996), and Life of Pi (novel, 2001) which won the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction 2001, the Man Booker Prize 2002, CBC Radio’s Canada Reads competition 2003, and the French version won the 2004 Le Combat de Livres.

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