Book Review: ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel

Life of Pi is more devious than it may come across, but that’s because of its nature. When we’re given a story, no matter what it is, that’s what you’re left with, a story. Sure, there is meaning to be found in the story, but to challenge the actual medium upon which the story sits isn’t a common practice in story telling. And that’s why this isn’t a common story.

 

This novel begins in the strangest and most fitting way, as our protagonist relives two parts of his life that become vital to the story. The first is essentially a lesson in zoology. The greatest lesson learned; the danger of animals. That they’re not to be messed with, they’re not to be treated lightly, and that they’re always to be feared. The next section reads as a religious discovery, as Pi, a born Hindu, embraces Christianity and Islam together with his founding. Pi tries to prove that these religions live in harmony with one another as they are based out of the same core belief.

About 100 pages in, the reader is thrown into the adventure, much like Pi is. As his family sold their zoo and decided to move to Canada, their voyage took them via the Pacific. One night, the ship sinks and Pi finds himself in a boat with an injured Zebra, Orangutan, Hyena, and a Bengal Tiger. As the herd is thinned out, It’s Pi and the Tiger; their journey and their cohabitation.

A lot of the buzz around this novel entails the spiritual journey of the main character. This presents with a missed opportunity, as one of the main themes of the novel is the marrying of science and faith. By taking the path of zoology, Martel’s genius comes through; its a combo overlooked but very much walks hand in hand. It’s proven, and we can argue physics all day long, but zoology is a proven science through and through. This relationship is personified in chapter 31 as Mr. and Mr. Kumar, a man of science and a man of faith come together at the Patel family zoo. That particular moment steers Pi in the direction of his double major in college, but more importantly, changes his world view; that science and religion equally explain how the world works. This belief also helps him transcend the dogma of each of his worshiping religions to be faithful in all three to that same divinity.

The main theme of the book is in telling the “good story.” This can be frustrating to the reader, as its not realized until the very end of the book, but it is so worth it. As Pi see’s it, our faith is built upon how we interpret and understand the world. Throughout the book, we are left with a story that seems convoluted in certain facts. The life boat that Pi lives on for more than half a year, only seems to get longer and longer with all that happens on it. Equally convoluted is the story of the random stranger, in a boat of the same making and the same predicament that finds Pi. Or the living island  All of this becomes a choice for the reader, to accept or to feign. That is what Pi believes God wants and believes in the better story.

Is life all the better story? Can life be lived this way? No religion has cropped up since this novel, at least that I know of, to accept this world view. Is that a flaw of the book? No. On the contrary, the nontraditional message of the book makes it so unique that its hard to resist liking. That’s why this book can be so hard to like as well, it’s all a choice that the reader must make. My heart goes with Pi, and it goes with Richard Parker, and finally, “it goes with God.”

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