05 December 2012

Books: Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)

I would like to say that, when it comes to reading, I usually choose what I read and not let outside influences –such as reviews- color my choices. Both Cloud Atlas and Life of Pi have been on my radar for a long time, yet –oddly- their popularity prevented me from reading them when they were released in 2004 and 2001, respectively. Yes, as many people are, when it comes to reading, I like the familiarity and I usually like a certain genre. When it comes to something new, something challenging, I hew and haw at it. A part of me wants to read books that challenge me, mostly for the intellectual part of my Id. Yet, I’m also intimidated by them as well, often pondering if I’m smart enough to understand the metaphors the author is trying to convene –like I said when I posted about the novel Cloud Atlas, I liked it but admit maybe I was not “smart” enough to get it fully.

And, of course, since movie versions of both books were coming, and I have (and had) every intention of seeing them, I wanted to read the book first. Which brings up another thought: do I spoil the movie when I know its ending? Yes, I guess in some sense I do, but I’ve found over the years that reading a book after seeing the movie sometimes makes me feel uneasy. Because I know the ending, the book –no matter how pretty the words- loses its magic of discovery. Books have always felt more magical to me than movies or TV shows adapted from books. I think part of that comes from the idea that books don’t have to be linear in nature –even though they are- like movies have too. Perhaps this is why Stephen King is so hard to capture on screen, his books are so dense with material, that screenwriters cannot add all those nooks and crannies.
So, I read Cloud Atlas, though I’ve yet to see the film. I’ve now finished Life of Pi, and am filled with hope I will see this film.

I enjoyed the book immensely, finding the character of Piscine Molitor Patel to be a fascinating young man. His love of religion, and his inability to accept just one, is perhaps his most enduring quality. One could say that Martel’s choice of giving him three saviors –not only from his Hinduism, but also Christianity and Islam- he covers the bases of the many readers who might enjoy this parable is cheating, but then I have a good friend who reminds me much of Pi. My friend Adam has this same love, so for me, the character of Pi is very much real.

This is a story of survival, one that pits a sixteen year-old boy, and a 450 pound Bengal tiger against the element of nature. When Pi’s family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, they bring along with their zoo animals as well, as they too are bound for a new home in Toronto. But for reasons unknown, the ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a life boat, his only companions are a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, the after mentioned tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker.

At its core, it’s an adventure novel that fully embraces the idea of the power these stories once had. It reminds me much of books written in the 18th and 19th Century where boys (mostly) are dispatched into high adventure by accident and end up using their wits they never knew they had to survive. But it’s also a commentary on how we relate to these stories, our beliefs. Like religion that Pi so heartily believes in, he realizes that they are stories. Like all faiths of religion, their tales are never confirmable because they are, in essence, just parables and metaphors. But for some, that is faith. For others, they’re fantastical tales. 

As the reader, you are left to choose which is which.

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