It’s time for another fiction/nonfiction book pairing! (Here‘s the first one I ever put together.) These books go well together for a very simple reason: one book was inspired by the other!
Life of Pi is a survival story – after the ship holding his family as well as their many zoo animals capsizes and sinks, Pi finds himself alone, the sole survivor … save for a large, angry tiger by the name of Richard Parker. A large majority of the book takes place in the middle of the ocean, as Pi struggles to survive both the sea and the wild animal that is accompanying him. It’s a fairly philosophical novel (the only thing really keeping Pi company is his thoughts, and he’s a fairly reflective person to begin with) and it’s also about grief, persistence, and how to cope after difficult situations.
This novel came out in 2001, and just a few years later on the set of the movie Mean Girls, actor Rajiv Surendra was told by a camera operator that he reminded him of Pi. Intrigued, Rajiv picked up a copy of the book and fell in love with it. When he heard that a movie version was in the works, he dedicated himself to preparing for the role of Pi, and when all was said and done, wrote a memoir about it!
The Elephants in My Backyard is Rajiv’s account of all of the things he did (and the adventures he went on) in order to land the role of Pi. He travels to various countries, from India to America to Germany, all in his quest to play Pi in this movie. There were a few reasons why I wanted to read this memoir. First, I love any book that is set in Toronto. It makes me feel like my home is more exciting than it actually is! (Taking the TTC? Churning butter at Black Creek Pioneer Village? It’s all part of the journey in becoming Pi.) The second reason why this memoir intrigued me was the fact that Rajiv didn’t play Pi in the film adaptation of his beloved novel. In fact, he’s not even in the movie! I wanted to know how far Rajiv got in his quest to become Pi.
It was fun reading Rajiv’s memoir after having read Life of Pi. I had an adequate understanding of the character of Pi, but Rajiv truly went above and beyond to try to become Pi. Rajiv really did have a lot of similarities with Pi – they both come from a Tamil background, dabbled in various religions in their youth, and lived among wild animals (Pi at the Pondicherry Zoo and Rajiv at the Toronto Zoo). I found that there were similarities in their journeys as well. Pi was constantly trying to improve his situation at sea; he thought of problems and then solutions, one after the other, and he found comfort in accomplishing these small goals. In the same way, Rajiv looked at one trait of the character and then embarked on a small mission in order to understand that aspect of Pi better. Some fun examples: when he went to Pondicherry and befriended some teenage boys who certainly could have been Pi’s peers (if he had been real), or when he learned to swim because Pi loves to swim!
These two books are quite different. Life of Pi is sometimes referred to as a children’s novel (though I enjoyed it as an adult) and The Elephants in My Backyard is a celebrity/adventure memoir (cool genre). But if you’re interested in books about a person dedicating themselves fully to a single goal, then both of these books might be right up your alley!