By Yann Martel
The story sounds like the beginning of a joke: a boy, a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a tiger floating on a lifeboat in the Pacific. Eventually, the hyena eats the zebra and the orangutan, then the Bengal attacks the hyena. The boy, Pi, is left with the tiger. When Pi washes ashore, he's met by some Japanese. He tells them his story, and they think he's crazy. So he gives them an alternative, saying that he was on the lifeboat with three other people, one a bloodthirsty chef who killed the others. The Japanese (and the reader) are left to decide which version they like more. From a writing standpoint, what makes this novel wonderful is that it asks questions: How do we make people believe our stories? Is there one way of telling a story, or are there many? What do we need to believe as readers, and, above all, to whom does this story belong—the writer or the person reading it?