17 May 2012

"The Life of Pi" by Yann Martel

    Review may contain spoilers: The Life of Pi by Yann Martel, is a story of an Indian boy named Piscene, who emigrates with his family and the animals from his father's Zoo, to Canada. On the way their boat capsizes and Piscene is forced to endure 227 days on a life raft with a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and a Bengalese Tiger named Richard Parker. Well, technically he only has to survive with the tiger for 227 days. The other animals are consumed by the tiger before the second half of the book. Piscene ends up taming Richard Parker (sort of) and survives all the way to North America. And that is the story of The Life of Pi...or is it?

    I'm treading carefully here because I don't want to give away the ending, which was done very well. The story we read through all but the last 10-20 pages of the book, is the story Piscene gives the men who come to interview him as he recovers after his grueling journey. But the book continually questions the stories we tell to others and to ourselves. Ultimately this is linked back to religion. Piscene is a Muslim-Christian-Hindu boy with an unbelieving brother and unbelieving parents. The Life of Pi continually talks about the power of stories and how we can shape our reality and ultimately our religion based on the stories we tell and which stories we prefer.

    That's awfully pleasant except that it isn't true. Mr. Martel I guess imagines we can put aside the fact that Islam and Christianity both hold to monotheism while Hinduism does not. Christianity has a personal God, whereas Hinduism has an impersonal one. Christianity is centered around the figure of Jesus Christ, who is respected as a prophet by Muslims, but is not considered equal to God. I mean, there are so many conflicting messages in all of these religions, that it is very hard to imagine a boy being taught by three leading religious figures in these wildly different religions, and NOT coming across these issues. It was a mildly comic scene when all three of his religious leaders meet Piscene on an outing with his family and argue over what type of believer he is. It sort of sounds like one of those jokes anyway: An imam, a Pandit, and a Priest meet one day...

    I'm going to give you a warning. I wouldn't say this is a cute story at all, but it has it's comedic moments. A LONG portion of this book is Piscene surviving on a raft with Richard Parker. Up until the last couple of pages the story is, in a way, sort of nice. Piscene is a sympathetic character. You live with his agony and cheer for him when he catches a fish or comes across a means of making fresh water. He is in mourning for his family, but he doesn't despair and turns to "God" (in quotes because I don't really know what that means) through it all. However, the last couple pages takes the book a gigantic step down a rather dark path and it is very very disturbing. I say this for the gentle reader.

    The book certainly makes you think. It makes you think about stories and what we tell ourselves and others. I believe this to a point. Sometimes we re-write our own histories, whether consciously or unconsciously, if we find something we don't like. As far as our own experiences, we tend to be revisionists. I love that the book forces you to think about Truth, and what it is. I hate that the book leaves you thinking that maybe maybe maybe there isn't actually Truth...maybe just truths...wrapped up in the stories they tell. I'm hesitantly saying I like the book. I don't agree with the worldview, but I am glad I read it.


Carrie said...

I haven't read this one but I have often believed that I would want to. I skimmed your review since you said that you were offering some spoilers, but I have the same impression that I had from the last person I really trusted who read it. That is, that it's not All That despite the hype. But interesting all of the same.

Which is why I still haven't read it yet.

BerlinerinPoet said...

Yeah, I wasn't blown away. It was interesting in how unconventional and unexpected it was, but then there is the violence which was a little shocking. I don't know. I am leaning toward a recommendation of skipping this one, but I'm not officially there. Isn't that unhelpfully vague?

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.