The author, writing himself into the text as a character, tells us the origin of the book. During a trip to India in 1996, the author met by chance a man named Francis Adirubasamy, who told him a story. Back in his native Canada, the author called the protagonist of the story, Mr. Patel, who told him his version over a series of meetings, backing it up with several documents.
Part One (Toronto and Pondicherry): Chapters 1–6
Mr. Patel, now a middle-aged man, says he has suffered a great deal in life. He partakes in zoological and religious studies, loves Canada, but misses India and Richard Parker, and he mentions his stay at a hospital in Mexico. Mr. Piscine Molitor Patel was named after the Piscine Molitor in Paris, the favorite pool of a family friend, Francis Adirubasamy. Teased at school for his first name, he trained his classmates and teachers to call him Pi. His father used to run the Pondicherry Zoo.
Part One: Chapters 7–20
Pi remembers his favorite teacher, Mr. Satish Kumar, an atheist communist. Pi says he was born into Hinduism and still embraces the Hindu philosophy of life, but that at age fourteen, he became a Christian after hearing the story of Christ, and at age fifteen, a Muslim after observing a baker, also called Satish Kumar, praying. He describes the day his father fed a live goat to a caged tiger to teach him and his brother, Ravi, about the danger of wild animals.
Part One: Chapters 21–36
Pi recounts the day the priest, imam, and pandit with whom he had been practicing his various religions demanded Pi chose a single faith. He narrates the occasion when he introduced the two Mr. Kumars to a zebra at the zoo. His father moved his family to Canada, bringing some of the zoo animals in the cargo ship where the family set sail. The author meets Pi's wife, Meena, and children, Nikhil and Usha.
Part Two (The Pacific Ocean): Chapters 37–42
On the deck of the ship, Pi notices that it is raining, and the ship is listing. Some crewmen put a life jacket on him and throw him over the side. Pi falls on a lifeboat and a zebra jumps on it, pushing the boat onto the water. The tiger named Richard Parker boards the lifeboat and Pi, scared, throws himself into the water. After seeing sharks, Pi goes back to the lifeboat, where he is joined by a hyena and orangutan.
Part Two: Chapters 43–47
Pi, hoping to be rescued soon, remains on the lifeboat but far away from the animals. The hyena races around the zebra, but then vomits and nestles behind it. Night falls and Pi hears noises from the animals on the lifeboat and in the water. The next day, Pi thinks about his family and notices the orangutan looking for its own in the water. Pi sees the hyena eating the zebra's broken leg and later the whole animal alive. It attacks and devours the orangutan. Pi sees the tiger under a bench and falls into a delirious sleep.
Part Two: Chapters 48–57
Pi recounts how, due to a mix-up, the tiger was named after the hunter, Richard Parker, who inadvertently captured it as a cub. To keep away from the tiger, Pi builds a raft and tethers it to the lifeboat. When the tiger kills the hyena and moves toward him, Pi throws it a rat and escapes to the raft. After the tiger makes a noise expressing harmless intentions, Pi decides to tame it using a whistle as a whip.
Part Two: Chapters 58–62
Pi reads a survival manual he found and goes back to the lifeboat. He sets solar stills into the ocean, to transform salt water into fresh water, and improves his raft. When some flying fish fall into the lifeboat, Pi, a vegetarian, hesitantly kills and eats one. Later, Pi feeds the tiger a fish and gives it fresh water. He realizes it has been a week since the ship sunk.
Part Two: Chapters 63–82
Pi busies himself with tasks: he fishes and feeds himself and the tiger, keeps the vessels clean and functioning, and stimulates his mind with praying, writing, and resting. He starts to train the tiger using the whistle and a turtle shell for a shield.
Part Two: Chapters 83–94
A storm forces Pi into the lifeboat and destroys the raft. An oblivious tanker nearly runs them over. Pi seals a message in a bottle and throws it in the ocean. Later, he goes blind and encounters a French castaway, who boards the lifeboat intending to cannibalize him but is killed by the tiger. After Pi regains his vision, he and the tiger go ashore an island, but they return to the sea when Pi suspects the island is carnivorous. The lifeboat washes ashore on a Mexican beach, the tiger escapes into the jungle, and Pi is taken to a hospital.
Part Three (Benito Juárez Infirmary, Tomatlán, Mexico): Chapters 95–100
Two officials from the Japanese Ministry of Transport, Okamoto and Chiba, interview Pi to understand why his ship sank. Pi tells them his story, but the men ask him what really happened. Pi tells them a different story: Pi, his mother, a French cook, and a Chinese sailor went into the lifeboat. As the sailor broke his leg, the cook cut it off to use as bait. The sailor died and the cook ate him. Then he killed Pi's mother. Pi fought and killed the cook, then ate some of his organs. Pi asks which story the men prefer, and they say the first is better.