Book Excerpt: Life of Pi

ByABC News via logo
August 6, 2003, 5:39 PM

Aug. 7 -- The Masters Book Club will be reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel as part of this month's "Read This" series. Join them by reading an excerpt of the book.

He is trapped in a lifeboat, along with a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, and the two share some frightening adventures as they drift along. Here is an excerpt from several chapters of the book.

chapter 37

The ship sank. It made a sound like a monstrous metallic burp. Things bubbled at the surface and then vanished. Everything was screaming: the sea, the wind, my heart. From the lifeboat I saw something in the water.

I cried, "Richard Parker, is that you? It's so hard to see. Oh, that this rain would stop! Richard Parker? Richard Parker? Yes, it is you!"

I could see his head. He was struggling to stay at the surface of the water.

"Jesus, Mary, Muhammad and Vishnu, how good to see you, Richard Parker! Don't give up, please. Come to the lifeboat. Do you hear this whistle? TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! You heard right. Swim, swim! You're a strong swimmer. It's not a hundred feet."

He had seen me. He looked panic-stricken. He started swimming my way. The water about him was shifting wildly. He looked small and helpless.

"Richard Parker, can you believe what has happened to us? Tell me it's a bad dream. Tell me it's not real. Tell me I'm still in my bunk on the Tsimtsum and I'm tossing and turning and soon I'll wake up from this nightmare. Tell me I'm still happy. Mother, my tender guardian angel of wisdom, where are you? And you, Father, my loving worrywart? And you, Ravi, dazzling hero of my childhood? Vishnu preserve me, Allah protect me, Christ save me, I can't bear it! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE!"

I was not wounded in any part of my body, but I had never experienced such intense pain, such a ripping of the nerves, such an ache of the heart.

He would not make it. He would drown. He was hardly moving forward and his movements were weak. His nose and mouth kept dipping underwater. Only his eyes were steadily on me.

"What are you doing, Richard Parker? Don't you love life? Keep swimming then! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! Kick with your legs. Kick! Kick! Kick!"

He stirred in the water and made to swim.

"And what of my extended family-birds, beasts and reptiles? They too have drowned. Every single thing I value in life has been destroyed. And I am allowed no explanation? I am to suffer hell without any account from heaven? In that case, what is the purpose of reason, Richard Parker? Is it no more than to shine at practicalities-the getting of food, clothing and shelter? Why can't reason give greater answers? Why can we throw a question further than we can pull in an answer? Why such a vast net if there's so little fish to catch?"

His head was barely above water. He was looking up, taking in the sky one last time. There was a lifebuoy in the boat with a rope tied to it. I took hold of it and waved it in the air.

"Do you see this lifebuoy, Richard Parker? Do you see it? Catch hold of it! HUMPF! I'll try again. HUMPF!"

He was too far. But the sight of the lifebuoy flying his way gave him hope. He revived and started beating the water with vigorous, desperate strokes.

"That's right! One, two. One, two. One, two. Breathe when you can. Watch for the waves. TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE!"

My heart was chilled to ice. I felt ill with grief. But there was no time for frozen shock. It was shock in activity. Something in me did not want to give up on life, was unwilling to let go, wanted to fight to the very end. Where that part of me got the heart, I don't know.

"Isn't it ironic, Richard Parker? We're in hell yet still we're afraid of immortality. Look how close you are! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! TREEEEEE! Hurrah, hurrah! You've made it, Richard Parker, you've made it. Catch! HUMPF!"

I threw the lifebuoy mightily. It fell in the water right in front of him. With his last energies he stretched forward and took hold of it.

"Hold on tight, I'll pull you in. Don't let go. Pull with your eyes while I pull with my hands. In a few seconds you'll be aboard and we'll be together. Wait a second. Together? We'll be together? Have I gone mad?"

I woke up to what I was doing. I yanked on the rope.

"Let go of that lifebuoy, Richard Parker! Let go, I said. I don't want you here, do you understand? Go somewhere else. Leave me alone. Get lost. Drown! Drown!"

He was kicking vigorously with his legs. I grabbed an oar. I thrust it at him, meaning to push him away. I missed and lost hold of the oar.

I grabbed another oar. I dropped it in an oarlock and pulled as hard as I could, meaning to move the lifeboat away. All I accomplished was to turn the lifeboat a little, bringing one end closer to Richard Parker.

I would hit him on the head! I lifted the oar in the air.

He was too fast. He reached up and pulled himself aboard. "Oh my God!"

Ravi was right. Truly I was to be the next goat. I had a wet, trembling, half-drowned, heaving and coughing three-year-old adult Bengal tiger in my lifeboat. Richard Parker rose unsteadily to his feet on the tarpaulin, eyes blazing as they met mine, ears laid tight to his head, all weapons drawn. His head was the size and colour of the lifebuoy, with teeth.

I turned around, stepped over the zebra and threw myself overboard.

chapter 38

I don't understand. For days the ship had pushed on, bullishly indifferent to its surroundings. The sun shone, rain fell, winds blew, currents flowed, the sea built up hills, the sea dug up valleys-the Tsimtsum did not care. It moved with the slow, massive confidence of a continent.

I had bought a map of the world for the trip; I had set it up in our cabin against a cork billboard. Every morning I got our position from the control bridge and marked it on the map with an orange-tipped pin. We sailed from Madras across the Bay of Bengal, down through the Strait of Malacca, around Singapore and up to Manila. I loved every minute of it. It was a thrill to be on a ship. Taking care of the animals kept us very busy. Every night we fell into bed weary to our bones. We were in Manila for two days, a question of fresh feed, new cargo and, we were told, the performing of routine maintenance work on the engines. I paid attention only to the first two. The fresh feed included a ton of bananas, and the new cargo, a female Congo chimpanzee, part of Father's wheeling and dealing. A ton of bananas bristles with a good three, four pounds of big black spiders. A chimpanzee is like a smaller, leaner gorilla, but meaner-looking, with less of the melancholy gentleness of its larger cousin. A chimpanzee shudders and grimaces when it touches a big black spider, like you and I would do, before squashing it angrily with its knuckles, not something you and I would do. I thought bananas and a chimpanzee were more interesting than a loud, filthy mechanical contraption in the dark bowels of a ship. Ravi spent his days there, watching the men work. Something was wrong with the engines, he said. Did something go wrong with the fixing of them? I don't know. I don't think anyone will ever know. The answer is a mystery lying at the bottom of thousands of feet of water.