Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Life of Pi is a
masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a
young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a
meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is
profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has
woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it
means to be alive, and to believe.
Growing up in Pondicherry,
India, Piscine Molitor Patel – known as Pi – has a rich life. Bookish by
nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great
religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about
how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many
of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own
theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to
it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on
him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to
simultaneously embrace and practise three religions – Christianity,
Hinduism, and Islam.
But despite the lush and nurturing variety
of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and
when Pi is sixteen, his parents decide that the family needs to escape
to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack
their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum.
Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North
America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship
sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi
survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest oftravelling
companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal
Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi.
Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to
the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position
within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi
realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own
will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being
Richard Parker’s next meal.
As Yann Martel has said in one
interview, “The theme of this novel can be summarized in three lines.
Life is a story. You can choose your story. And a story with an
imaginative overlay is the better story.” And for Martel, the greatest
imaginative overlay is religion. “God is a shorthand for anything that
is beyond the material – any greater pattern of meaning.” In Life of Pi,
the question of stories, and of what stories to believe, is front and
center from the beginning, when the author tells us how he was led to Pi
Patel and to this novel: in an Indian coffee house, a gentleman told
him, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” And as this
novel comes to its brilliant conclusion, Pi shows us that the story with
the imaginative overlay is also the story that contains the most truth.