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5 Books like Life of Pi: Perils of Solitude & Contemplation

Kedar Prasana itcherYou have just finished reading through Pi Patel’s quixotic life story that may or may not be real. You are craving for more life-reflections that solitude and being stranded coerce upon people. Where do you go? Well, this list of books like ‘Life of Pi’ might be a good place to start. These include ‘Concrete Island’, ‘Down to a Sunless Sea’, ‘Lord Jim’, ‘Into Africa’ and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. ~ Kedar Prasana

A Thousand Dangers Beneath Tranquil Waves

Life will defend itself no matter how small it is.

‘Life of Pi’ turned out to be one of those books that made it really big, both in the world of letters and in the world of images, despite a seemingly infinite trail of plagiarism accusations it has left.

Although, in my humblest of opinions, I still find it tough to buy into its literary merit at times, there’s little doubt that it’s a sure-fire unputdownable entertainer.

The story of young, likeable Pi Patel, a regular Indian young adult who gets stranded in the Pacific following a battering storm, with very peculiar company of a full-grown Bengal Tiger (named, Richard Parker, nothing less) reads more like a screenplay, and has that universally appealing cleft-climax cherry to top things off.

A book like ‘Life of Pi’ isn’t, however, to be dissected in classrooms. It’s just to be read over a few cups of tea and left to decorate your bookshelf. But if the idea of getting stranded, being left to your own devices appeals the couch-sailor inside you, this list of books similar to ‘Life of Pi’ should do you some measure of good.

And if you’re rather in the mood for a film, check out these movies like ‘Life of Pi’.


Books Similar to ‘Life of Pi’…

‘Concrete Island’ (J.G. Ballard, 1974)

Image Source: Start Narrative Here

To have what you want beyond your reach is okay. Happens all the time, doesn’t it? But to have what you want in your sight but just beyond your reach is something else. It’s hell.

Published in 1974 after an impressive bidding war, ‘Concrete Island’ is an out-and-out blockbuster movie stuff (admittedly, a modern day rendition of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by the author himself) that’s yet to be adapted to the big screen.

It tells the story of a young, successful architect named Robert Maitland, who, through a twisted series of events, gets trapped in his car, in the middle of a heavily busy expressway flyover in West London. It’s quite thrilling to read about MacGyver-esque machinations of an ill-resourced man who has long lost natural instincts of survival.

Similarity Match: 90%
The travails of Pi Patel in the Pacific are not at all unlike the ones of Maitland. Survival and contemplation are two biggest running themes in both of these books. However, ‘Concrete Island’ uses metaphor for seclusion, whereas ‘Life of Pi’ straight meets the bull’s eye.

‘Down to a Sunless Sea’ (David Graham, 1979)

Image Source: Goodreads

Unravelling is very, very easy. I wonder if that’s the real order of the nature.

David Graham, a cult-favourite author in the 80’s England, wrote a chilling apocalyptic tale of unravelled America in the wake of nuclear sabotages, oil falls, dollar dips, renewed Cold War and civil anarchy.

The hero of the story – Jonah Scott – is a young recruit in a British airline, and his fight for survival in an alien-like foreign land can easily hook you up for a few hours.

Similarity Match: 85%
‘Life of Pi’ and ‘Down to a Sunless Sea’ are both big on survival and animal instincts in human mind. The most striking point of difference between them is the reliance of Pi Patel on spiritual powers to guide him through ordeals and the reluctance of Jonah Scott to resort to anything else but his own ideas.

‘Lord Jim’ (Joseph Conrad, 1900)

Image Source: eMusic

The sky over Patusan was blood-red, immense, streaming like an open vein. An enormous sun nestled crimson amongst the treetops, and the forest below had a black and forbidding face.

Joseph Conrad is one of my most favourite prose writers, and I may well be biased in saying that it’s almost impossible to not mention his works when the discussion raves on about seas, waves, seclusion and contemplation.

‘Lord Jim’, published over a century ago and often considered to be among the best English novels of all time, is a classic tale a young marine captain named ‘Jim’, who is in charge of a carrier vessel named Patna, making a fateful journey from (insinuatingly) Bombay to Mecca. The storm of the century, the battering of the ship and Jim’s partly justified cowardice in abandonment of Patna make for a tale of redemption and lifelong rueing.

Similarity Match: 80%
‘Life of Pi’ and ‘Lord Jim’ both share distinctly similar themes of storms, seas, survival, India and most of all – spirituality. As far as prose is considered, however, Conrad outweighs most English authors, Yann Martel included.


If You Like ‘Life of Pi’, You Will Like…

Turning the clock of the settings further back, enthusiastic readers would love to know that other literary forms – namely, poetry and non-fiction – haven’t been immune to the charms and dangers of billowing oceanic waves.

‘Into Africa’ (Martin Dugard, 2002)

The creepers twined up and around the great tree trunks so tightly that even dead trees remained upright, supported by the same parasitical vines that had killed them.

Dr Livingstone, I presume? is one of the most iconic lines of adventure literature. These words uttered by Henry Morgan Stanley, when he finally chanced upon Dr David Livingstone, after an extensive journey through the purgatory that was 19th century Africa have been instrumental in developing the image of Africa in the west.

‘Into Africa’, or more precisely ‘Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone’, is a must-read non-fiction documentary rendition of hundreds of diaries, recounts, tell-tales and anecdotes, complied very craftily by Martin Dugard.

Pi Patel, an accidental adventurer, thinks much like seasoned campaigners such as Stanley and Livingstone, interpreting survival through religion and morality. Being a non-fiction book, however, puts limitations on theatrics for ‘Into Africa’, rendering the magic realism of ‘Life of Pi’ a foregone probability.

‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1798)

Image Source: Open Library

O Wedding-Guest! This soul hath been Alone on a wide, wide sea: So lonely ‘twas that God himself scarce seemed there to be.

Not strictly a book in the literal sense of the word, this epic poem of a sea voyage gone wrong by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is, nonetheless, a definitive reading experience (perhaps, a little help from Orson Welles can be welcome).

Spanning just at around 80 pages, Coleridge narrates the beauty of tranquil waters, romantic flights of gulls, restless twilights and sunsets, slowly concocting storms that batter, disillusions of adventures and hallucinations of ghosts and fictional wedding parties.

The strongest and the longest thread of commonness between ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and ‘Life of Pi’ is the permanent trauma that lone voyages and fights for survival can cause to adventurers. The difference of narrative, on the other hand, couldn’t be more obvious, as the former is in verse and the latter in prose.


Row, Row, Row Your Boat…

Most of us can’t afford to actually go looking for adventures. The closest we can get there is to let our minds set free. To experience what survival really entails in treacherous climes and conditions, you can further explore these books similar to ‘Life of Pi’ in style, substance or themes – ‘Moby Dick’, ‘Nostromo’, ‘The Odyssey’, ‘Lord of the Flies’, ‘Zeitoun’.

Do feel free to let us know of your thoughts, ideas, remarks and suggestions in the comment space right below this post.

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