Once I started listening to the audio-book, I realized how interesting the book could be. In the first third, Pi narrates the story of a young and magical life, living in the zoo run by his family in Pondicherry. He is drawn to everything mystical - something which gets him in trouble when he studies and finds the value in Hinduism, Islam and Catholicism. At the same time, he excels in school, especially in science. His enthusiasm for all beliefs and systems is both naive and wise.
As an aside, I liked these sections of the book. It reminded me of my student days when I was on teams with foreign medical graduates from Pakistan and India. On one rotation, I was on a team at a VA hospital with a Hindu man from Orissa, and a Pakistani man from Karachi who believed in Islam. On the nights we took call together, we would talk about life and religion in between restarting IVs, checking labs and writing orders. The voice of Pi, as a youth from India, was very believable to me.
On the boat, Pi and the tiger come to an uneasy understanding. In order for Pi to survive, he has to be scientific in figuring things out, and also to take care of his physical side. He becomes the Alpha male in the boat. And he acknowledges that he learned that from the tiger - they both needed each other in order to survive. At one point, he could have left the tiger behind - but his compassion would not let him do that.
The action of the book is also influenced by "The Emergency," a horrible period in Indian history (1975 through 1977) where Indira Ghandhi's government declared martial law. I had read A Delicate Balance by Rohinton Mistry, at the end of 2007, where the action is centered in Bombay during that same period of time.
There are some very graphic scenes in the book - and I don't think I can deal with sushi for a bit, but there's a kind of light in the book, some wonderful passages that when I looked up, it took me a while to see what was around me.