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8 Surreal Books Like Life of Pi

8 Surreal Books Like Life of Pi

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If you want fiction that challenges you, that has you exploring alternative meanings and questioning reality then look no further than this list of books like Life of Pi. Classed as a philosophical novel exploring religion and the effects of trauma, the art (and importance) of storytelling is also at the heart of Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel. Life of Pi tells the story of Pi Patel, a young Indian boy who loses his entire zoo-keeping family to the ocean when the ship they were sailin... Read more

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Life of Pi

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2006 | Yann Martel

Rated by 21 people

Life of Pi is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe. Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel -- known as Pi -- has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi's family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren't quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practise three religions -- Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi's world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the "Tsimtsum." Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest of travelling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Thus begins Pi Patel's epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker's next meal. As the days pass, Pi fights both boredom and terror by throwing himself into the practical details of surviving on the open sea -- catching fish, collecting rain water, protecting himself from the sun -- all the while ensuring that the tiger is also kept alive, and knows that Pi is the key to his survival. The castaways face gruelling pain in their brushes with starvation, illness, and the storms that lash the small boat, but there is also the solace of beauty: the rainbow hues of a dorado's death-throes, the peaceful eye of a looming whale, the shimmering blues of the ocean's swells. Hope is fleeting, however, and despite adapting his religious practices to his daily routine, Pi feels the constant, pressing weight of despair. It is during the most hopeless and gruelling days of his voyage that Pi whittles to the core of his beliefs, casts off his own assumptions, and faces his underlying terrors head-on. As Yann Martel has said in one interview, "The theme of this novel can be summarized in three lines. Life is a story. You can choose your story. And a story with an imaginative overlay is the better story." And for Martel, the greatest imaginative overlay is religion. "God is a shorthand for anything that is beyond the material -- any greater pattern of meaning." In Life of Pi, the question of stories, and of what stories to believe, is front and centre from the beginning, when the author tells us how he was led to Pi Patel and to this novel: in an Indian coffee house, a gentleman told him, "I have a story that will make you believe in God." And as this novel comes to its brilliant conclusion, Pi shows us that the story with the imaginative overlay is also the story that contains the most truth. "From the Trade Paperback edition."

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The God of Small Things

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1997 | Arundhati Roy

Rated by 11 people

"They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much. " The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, a skyblue Plymouth with chrome tailfins is stranded on the highway amid a Marxist workers' demonstration. Inside the car sit two-egg twins Rahel and Esthappen, and so begins their tale. . . . Armed only with the invincible innocence of children, they fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family--their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu (who loves by night the man her children love by day), their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt), and the ghost of an imperial entomologist's moth (with unusually dense dorsal tufts). When their English cousin, Sophie Mol, and her mother, Margaret Kochamma, arrive on a Christmas visit, Esthappen and Rahel learn that Things Can Change in a Day. That lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river "graygreen."  With fish in it. With the sky and trees in it. And at night, the broken yellow moon in it. The brilliantly plotted story uncoils with an agonizing sense of foreboding and inevitability. Yet nothing prepares you for what lies at the heart of it. The God of Small Things takes on the Big Themes--Love. Madness. Hope. Infinite Joy. Here is a writer who dares to break the rules. To dislocate received rhythms and create the language she requires, a language that is at once classical and unprecedented. Arundhati Roy has given us a book that is anchored to anguish, but fueled by wit and magic.

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Max and the Cats

1981 | Moacyr Scliar, Eloah F. Giacomelli

Brazilian novelist Moacyr Scliar's Max and the Cats is an elegant parable of the fallout of fascism, told in a mode that recalls Kafka, Grass, Marquez, and Bruno Shulz. It is the story of a young German, Max Schmidt, and his psychological battles with three felines: a stuffed tiger in his father's Berlin fur shop, a jaguar aboard a life raft in the west Atlantic, and a phantasmal onca in northern Brazil. The plot is quite simple: Max, through his youthful innocence, becomes embroiled in an ill-judged love affair that causes him to run afoul of the emerging Nazi party. He flees Germany, only to become stranded mid-ocean after the freighter on which he has found passage is scuttled in an act of insurance fraud. Eventually, he drifts to Brazil, where he is faced once again with the spectre of fascism--which he flees but is eventually driven to exorcise through an act of bloody violence. Scliar's narrative is understated and sometimes quite comical, but his purpose is wholly serious, and Max and the Cats offers a perspective on fascism that is intriguing--and rather unfamiliar to North American readers. Max and the Cats briefly gained some fame in Canada when a handful of sensationalist journalists "revealed" that Yann Martel had derived part of the premise for Life of Pi from a review of Scliar's novella. This so-called scandal was unfair to both books, which really have very little in common aside from the fact that both involve a young man adrift on a lifeboat with a big cat. Skeptics who want to assess the extent of Martel's borrowings should read Max and the Cats before judging Martel, but this is a book that deserves to be read for its own considerable merits and not forever bound to its purported double. --Jack Illingworth

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