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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES
The author is in India attempting to write a novel. He is displeased with his progress, as his current story lacks passion. It hasn’t a spark of life, so he mails his notes off to a fictitious address in Siberia.
While in a coffeehouse in Pondicherry, he is conversing with an elderly man named Francis Adirubasamy. The man offers a story “that will make you believe in God.” The author is skeptical at first, assuming the man is some sort of fundamentalist or evangelist. The man says the author must get the true account from the person who lived it - a man named Patel, in Canada. The author goes to Canada, finds Patel, and gets his story. The story is told in Patel’s voice.
The Author’s Note begins autobiographically, explaining Martel’s trip to India and his restlessness as he searches for a story. However, the Author’s Note is more than an “Introduction,” “Acknowledgement,” or “Foreword” to the book. It sets the reader up for actually believing the story. It establishes the setting as a real place. The formerly French territory in south India where Pondicherry is located, of course, exists. Even the coffee house in Pondicherry exists, across the road from the Trivandrum Zoo. The “Pondicherry Zoo” does not exist, but the Botanical Gardens do. The author introduces Francis Adirubasamy as a real person, and even goes so far as to include the characters of Mr. Patel, Mr. Adirubasamy, and Mr. Okamoto in the acknowledgements.
The characters are mentioned right beside the non-fictitious Canada Council for the Arts which granted support for Martel’s writing of Life of Pi in 1997. Mixing actuality and invention prepares the reader for the “better story” so that we do not “sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality” or “end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.”
PART ONE - Toronto and Pondicherry
A gloomy, unknown narrator presents himself, explaining that he has majored in both religious studies and zoology at the University of Toronto - his religious studies thesis being about the cosmogony theory of Isaac Luria, and his zoology thesis about the thyroid gland of the three-toed sloth. He then describes the nature and habits of the sloth in detail. Though he was recognized for his intelligence and ability in the zoology department, he personally did not separate science and religion, “such a beautiful example of the miracle of life, reminded me of God.” He mentions the goddess Lakshmi, hinting that he may be of the Hindu faith.
He describes how he loves Canada, but misses India. He also misses Richard Parker (though the reader does not yet know exactly who Richard Parker is). He continues, disjointedly, about his experience in the hospital in Mexico and his embarrassment at an Indian restaurant in Canada.
Chapter 1 sets the pace and motif of the novel. The reader will often be sidetracked by digressions into the nature and habits of animals and their relationship with humans. These descriptions were well researched by Martel and can be considered accurate science. The main character will also often digress into religious remarks, but they will not always come from the Hindu faith.
The topics for the theses are significant. The “thyroid gland of the three-toed sloth” sounds methodologically scientific, but the narrator chose the sloth because of its soothing, spiritually calming nature. The doctrines of Isaac Luria’s cosmogony are based on the Old Testament and Zohar (Kabbalist text), but the concepts closely correspond to the Big Bang Theory which was validated by science hundred of years after Luria. This coexistence of faith and science is the motif of the novel.
Lastly, the narrator’s list of the top five places to visit presages the particulars that the reader will be learning about Pi’s life. The list includes Oxford, representing intellectual/scientific interests, Mecca, the holiest city for Muslims, Varanasi, the holiest city for Hindus, Jerusalem, the holiest city for Christians, and Paris, the city of magnificent swimming pools.