An italicized section precedes Chapter 1. This section is written as if by Yann Martel himself, but it is actually part of the novel told by a fictional Canadian author. The author says that he had published two earlier books which were ignored, and he went to Bombay, India to clear his mind and try to write again. This was his second trip to India. He planned to find a quiet place to write his next novel, which was about Portugal in 1939.
With this Author’s Note Martel immediately introduces the idea of using alternate stories to describe the same reality, an idea that will apply to religion and Pi’s accounts of his survival. The fictional author is very similar to Martel himself, who was also Canadian, had previously published two unsuccessful novels, and went to India for inspiration.
The Portugal book quickly lost momentum and sputtered out. The author felt desperate and depressed, wondering what to do with his life next. He left Bombay and traveled to southern India, eventually arriving in the town of Pondicherry. Pondicherry had once been ruled by the French Empire (as opposed to most of the rest of India, which was ruled by Britain), but the town had gained its independence decades before.
The idea of storytelling itself is worked throughout the novel’s complex framework. Martel is writing as a fictional version of himself, who is writing as an adult Pi remembering his youth. Pondicherry’s uniqueness in India makes it an ideal setting for Pi’s blending of religions and philosophies.
In a local coffee house, the author met an old man named Francis Adirubasamy. Mr. Adirubasamy offered to tell the author a story “that will make you believe in God.” The author accepted the challenge, and he took notes on Mr. Adirubasamy’s story. The author then returned to Canada and found the protagonist of Mr. Adirubasamy’s story, Mr. Patel. The author began visiting Mr. Patel and taking notes.
From the start Martel encourages us to suspend our disbelief and accept “the better story” over “dry, yeastless factuality” – ideas that will be threaded throughout the book. He is basically inventing a different origin story for Life of Pi, choosing a more interesting tale than the grueling, unexciting work of writing every day.
Mr. Patel showed the author old newspaper clippings about the events of the story, and also let him read his diary. Many months later, the author received a tape and report from the Japanese Ministry of Transport, confirming Mr. Patel’s tale. The author agrees that it is “a story to make you believe in God.” He says that he has written the novel in the first person, as through Mr. Patel’s voice. He ends with some acknowledgements, including Mr. Patel and the novelist Maocyr Scliar, thanking him “for the spark of life.”
Francis Adirubasamy introduces the important theme of religion with his claim. After Life of Pi’s success Martel was criticized for taking the idea (a castaway alone with a wild cat) from Scliar’s book Max and the Cats, but Martel claimed that he had only read a review of Scliar’s novel, not the novel itself. The two works are very different, and Scliar himself dropped his plagiarism accusations eventually.