Life of Pi
Beatrice and Virgil

Life of Pi by Yann MartelBook Cover of Life of Pi by Yann Martel

A great book for discussion and Tracy recommends it for a truly different reading experience. Martel won the Man Booker in 2002 for this novel which delves into the story of Pi and his struggle to survive at sea. Martel seems to be the flavour of the month with a discussion of his new book "Beatrice and Virgil" on The First Tuesday Book Club, so is a very topical subject for your book club to discuss. You could integrate both books (which we have reviewed), but the Life of Pi is a great book for all age groups and easy to read so ideal for people who don't have a lot of time to read. Click here to read the full book review.

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. Do you agree with Pi's belief that animals in zoos are no worse off than animals in the wild?
3. Do you believe in the ability to practice multiple religions at once. Pi believes he is christian, islamic and hindu, is he hedging his bets for the future?
4. The storyline of surviving in a lifeboat with wild animals is very unrealistic - were you able to ignore this fact and become engrossed in the storyline?
5. What is the significance of the floating islands with the meerkats?
6. What does Richard Parker symbolise?
7. What is the connection between zoology and religion in Pi's life? Do you see connections between these fields? What do each of the fields teach us about life, survival and meaning?
8. Pi is forced to tell the shipping official a more credible story. Does his story without animals change your view of the story with animals?
9. Neither story can be proved one way or the other, so Pi asks the official which story he prefers. Which do you prefer? Which do you believe?
10. Throughout Life of Pi we hear about interactions between the author and adult Pi. How do these interactions colour the story? How does knowing Pi survives and has a "happy ending" with a family affect your reading of his survival account?
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. Besides the loss of his family and possessions, what else did Pi lose when the Tsimtsum sank? What did he gain?
14. 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?
15. Is Life of Pi a tragedy, romance, or comedy?
16. 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?
17. 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?
18. 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?
19. 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?
20. 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?
21. 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?
22. 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?
23. Rate Life of Pi on a scale of 1 to 5.

These questions are provided by LitLovers and from Harcourt Trade Publishers.

Buy Now

Back to top

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel Book Cover of Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

Read by Tracy in July 2010 who could not put this book down. Being the sequel to Life of Pi this book is interesting from a totally different perspective and had lots of different concepts which makes it great for book club discussions. I think it would suit a range of age groups and get people thinking about the holocaust and its impacts on different generations. Click here to read the full book review.

1. Was the book what you were expecting? Did you understand what it was about - why or why not?
2. What did you think of the character Henry? How did he differ from the taxidermist?
3. Did you feel Martel over explained his narrator’s thoughts and motivations?
4. Do you think this book could be a valuable resource in Holocaust discussions?
5. What did you think of the character of the taxidermist?
6. What did you like about Beatrice and Virgil’s interactions? Which was your favorite dialogue between the two of them?
7. Do you think Martel succeeded in combining an essay and a story into one novel?
8. What was the moment in the book that stayed with you the longest?
9. How would you compare Life of Pi to Beatrice and Virgil? What are their similarities? Differences?
10. Rate Beatrice and Virgil 1 to 5.
11. What purpose do you think Henry served for the novel?
12. Did you think the taxidermist was a real person or merely a storytelling device?
13. What do you think of Henry’s original idea for his book? Do you agree with him that the Holocaust needs to be remembered in different ways, beyond the confines of “historical realism”? Why, or why not?
14. Describe the role Flaubert’s story “The Legend of Saint Julian Hospitator” plays in the novel.
15. How do you explain Henry’s wife’s reaction to the taxidermist and his workshop?
16. What do Henry’s non-literary activities—music lessons, waiting tables—tell us about him as a character? What else do they add to the book?
17. What is the significance of 68 Nowolipki Street?
18. What is Beatrice & Virgil about?
19. What is the significance of names in the novel, especially Henry’s full name?
20. What is your favourite part of Beatrice & Virgil?

These questions are provided by the Publisher.

Buy Now

Back to top