Life of Pi (Illustrated edition)
Yann Martel. Illustrated by Tomislav Torjanac
I love the paperback cover of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi: a bared-teeth tiger’s head floating between a tomato sky and a turquoise sea. It’s an iconic cover---like Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals or James Frey’s kinda-memoir A Million Little Pieces---that is immediately identifiable. So I was curious to see how Tomislav Torjanac would re-imagine that cover and illustrate Martel’s novel of Pi surviving a shipwreck and a crew of hungry, abandoned animals.
The Croatian artist won the honour through an international competition. The result is a quietly beautiful interpretation reminiscent of dusty classic books that you’d find at granny’s house, like Treasure Island or Gulliver’s Travels. Working in oil paints, Torjanac’s illustrations are warm and lively (I love the orangutan: “She came floating on an island of bananas in a halo of light,”) but very traditional.
Martel’s books are magical and demand a suspension of belief---after all, Pi survives 227 days on a 26-feet-long raft with a 450-pound Bengal tiger and doesn’t end up as lunch---that would lend itself nicely to a more contemporary, abstract treatment. Just imagine if Mitchell Wiebe or Halifax-born celebrity animal photographer Shari Hatt were given a chance to conjure up an artistic menagerie.
Sue Carter Flinn