Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

This curious favorite of book clubs has only a tinge of the bizarre. Except for three chapters in which Pi discusses his embrace of all three major religions, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The prose has a sing-song quality, and I found myself hearing the narrator with a stereotypical Indian accent.

Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi) lives with his family in India. Pi’s father is a zookeeper, and the boy has learned a lot about zoo animals and their care. Facing financial ruin, the zoo animals are sold to North American zoos so the family can emigrate to Canada. The Patels load the creatures onto a rusty freighter piloted by Japanese officers with a Chinese crew. During a storm, the ship sinks, and Pi finds himself alone on a lifeboat with a spotted hyena, an orangutan, a rat, a zebra with a broken leg, and a tiger. For over 200 days, the 16-year-old boy battles the elements and his fellow survivors of the wreck.

The only connection I can make between the religious odyssey, which causes Pi to attend a Hindu Temple, a mosque, and mass at the local Catholic Church, and the story involves a sort of reworking of the Lord of the Flies scenario. None of these religions insulate Pi from abandoning all his values and beliefs. Aside from an occasional epithet, “Jesus, Mary, Mohammed, and Vishnu” the religious part of the story does not directly figure into the rest of the novel.

Pi never addresses the contradictions these three religions present, but rather focuses only on their surface similarities. He worries about violating an injunction of one but does not seem to justify his actions when another religion permits the same behavior.

The ending is quite a surprise, and will leave the reader guessing. All in all, a more than worthwhile read. The story of Pi’s 220 plus days in the boat is exciting – I could barely put the book down then. Maybe another read will reveal more details and a better explanation. 4-1/2 stars

--Chiron, 5/10/09


Bibliolatrist said...

I love this book, and did it with my kids this year. There's actually a lot of religious symbolism in it; we did a great project on it. For example, the name of the boat "tsimtsum" that was to transport Pi and his family is a Kabbalistic term...there's a lot of other religious symbolism as well. It's a book that gets better every time I read it.

Chiron said...

Yes, I thought there was more, and I was curious about the name of the ship. This is definitely a novel that needs a second read with some research involved.

Thanks for the comment.