From the beginning Pi's story is uncertain. In an author's note, someone (Pi? Yann Martel? an anonymous figure?) claims to have met an old man in Pondicherry who told him the story of Pi Patel. The author of the author's note then states his intention to relay the story told him by the old man, but as though the author was himself Pi, as it will be less confusing than a third-person narrative. What follows is a fantastical tale about a young man (Pi) traveling from India to Canada on a ship carrying his family and their entire zooful of animals.
When the ship sinks, Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and a massive Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The other animals are soon killed and eaten, leaving Richard Parker and Pi alone to discover the meaning of life. Part of this is visceral and practical—Pi must learn to placate the tiger and assert his own dominance. He feeds Richard Parker fish he catches, which keeps the Bengal from eating him, and causes him to see Pi as his master. This relationship raises questions of the role of man in nature, and leads to contemplations of life and death that are more wise than one would expect of even the most precocious 16-year-old.
Religious belief as a major theme introduces itself early in the narrative. At the age of fourteen, Pi began to follow the world's three great religions simultaneously, attempting a synthesis of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. By trying to understand God from those three seemingly disparate perspectives, he comes to understand the value of each. Even as an old man, having experienced much pain and hardship, he expresses his religious faith as the only true source of strength.
It is this approach to pluralism that makes Life of Pi worth reading. While Martel's final message is trite, his explanation is one of the most revealing explanations in modern literature. For Pi, religion is ultimately only a way to cope with the miseries of life. Since doctrinal coherence is seen as immaterial to this endeavor (that of solace and comfort) it can be dispensed with, and only synchretized ritual and a vague sense of God are left to bring any kind of meaning to otherwise empty lives. Life of Pi is beautifully written and highly imaginative, and a very weak response to the problem of evil that is nevertheless representative of modern faux-spiritualists and philosophical optimists.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
Did you find this review helpful?