I was alone and orphaned, in the middle of the Pacific, hanging on to an oar, an adult tiger in front of me, sharks beneath me, a storm raging about me. Had I considered my prospects in the light of reason, I surely would have given up and let go of the oar, hoping that I might drown before being eaten. But I don’t recall that I had a single thought during those first minutes of relative safety. I didn’t even notice daybreak. I held on to the oar, I just held on, God only knows why. -From Life of Pi, page 107-
Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winning novel Life of Pi is about a sixteen year old boy named Pi who sees no reason why he cannot be a Muslim, a Christian and a Hindu all at the same time…after all, the rhinos in his father’s zoo get along just fine with the goats, and all Pi wants to do is “love God.” When Pi’s family decides to move to Canada and boards a Japanese cargo ship along with their wild zoo animals in cages below deck, the story takes a sudden turn. Only days into the journey, the ship sinks leaving Pi the only survivor aboard a 26 foot life boat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a 3 year old male Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The story becomes one of survival for Pi as one by one the animals are killed off until only Richard Parker remains.
The Life of Pi is not really about a boy castaway and a tiger. Instead it is an exploration of faith and tolerance. Pi is literally set adrift with only himself and God to chart the waters of survival. Richard Parker is symbolic of all the challenges and fears we face in life – those we must overcome to not only survive, but to find meaning in our lives. Early in the novel Pi tells the reader:
My religious doings were reported to my parents in the hushed, urgent tones of treason revealed. As if this small-mindedness did God any good. To me, religion is about our dignity, not our depravity. -From Life of Pi, page 71-
And so when the worst happens and the depraved, instinctive actions of the animals horrifies us, we are reminded that Pi will find dignity anyway. And so he does – through the practised religious rituals which he adapts to his circumstances, Pi recognizes: Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love – but sometimes it was so hard to love. (page 208)
Life of Pi leaves us with a twist – a question really of what actually happened. What is the truth of Pi’s adventure? What do we want? A story which makes us think, or one filled with only dry facts?
I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.” -From Life of Pi, page 302-
So how did I like Life of Pi? It was a unique book and one which took me almost 100 pages to really sink into and begin to appreciate. This is not a light read – it is a novel filled with deep thoughts and hard questions. I can’t say I enjoyed it – although I did respect the writing and felt it was one of those novels which should be read and digested, and then read again.
Recommended for those readers who like a thought-provoking book.