Friday, October 12, 2012

Life of Pi

Life of Pi by Yann Martel 
Grade: A
Profanity: Very little
Graphic content (sex, murder,etc.): A little gore but not too graphic

This was our September Book Club pick. And I really enjoyed it. But, for those of you who have not read the book, I will put a WARNING at some point in this review, and you MUST NOT READ PAST IT UNTIL AFTER YOU READ THE BOOK!!!!!!!! Hmmm... maybe I should put more emphasis on that. No? Okay... But seriously, don't read past the warning. Here is the synopsis on the back of my copy:
A boy of many faiths. A 450-pound Bengal tiger. A shipwreck. A lifeboat. The Pacific Ocean.
With more than six million copies in print, Life of Pi has become a modern classic, combining grand storytelling with a profound exploration of ageless themes: faith and truth, fact and fiction, man versus nature, and innocence and experience.
Ok, so that wasn't much of a summary... Basically, it's the story of a young Indian boy who gets stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger. It's very lovely at times, and has both comical and sad moments. And I thought it was very eloquently written. Martel did an excellent job of painting images in my mind, which I love in a book.
The novel sometimes delves into different aspects of religion, and while it's not the kind of book to make you question your own religious beliefs, it does perhaps shine light on how some religions are more closely related than you might think.
On a personal note, during the time I was reading this book, Matt and I went to see some movie. One of the previews happened to be for the Life of Pi movie, and when I realized what it was (during a loud part of the preview) I yelled over to Matt, "That's Life of Pi!!!" Well, it just so happened that the preview went silent right at the moment I yelled... So yeah, that was a bit embarrassing. : )  Matt (and a few other patrons) laughed at me, and, of course, I laughed at myself. I do that quite often. (Ha, ha.) (See?!)
Ultimately, I do recommend reading this book if you haven't done so. I'm anxious to see the movie when it comes out now, but I will tell you that you should definitely read the book before you see the movie. I'm not sure what all they will change from the novel, but no matter what, I HIGHLY SUGGEST YOU READ THE BOOK BEFORE YOU WATCH THE MOVIE IF YOU PLAN ON READING THE BOOK!!!




Okay, now for the real discussion... The ending. Which story did you think was the real one? Being the happily-ever-after optimist that I am, I of course choose to believe that the "with animals" tale is what really happened. I did some research and found a great interview Martel did with ABC News that I think helps back up my theory as well (click here for the full interview). Here are two of his responses that most influenced my choice:

"... I leave it to the reader to choose which is the better story. It can go both ways. Pi survived with Richard Parker and then, confronted with the skepticism of the Japanese, and wanting his suffering to be validated, to be accepted, he creates another story, the story without animals. That's one reading. Or Pi and his mother and the French cook and a Taiwanese sailor survive, it turns into a butchery and Pi invents the story with animals presumably to pass the time and to make acceptable the unacceptable, that is, the murder of his mother by the Frenchman and Pi's killing of the Frenchman. Both stories are offered, one is on the outer edges of the barely believable, the other is nearly unbearable in its violence, neither explains the sinking of the ship, in both Pi suffers and loses his family, in both he is the only human survivor to reach the coast of Mexico. The investigators must choose and the reader must choose. When the investigators choose the story with animals, Pi answers "And so it goes with God." In other words, Pi makes a parallel between the two stories and religion. His argument (and mine) is that a vision of life that has a transcendental element is better than one that is purely secular and materialist. A story with God ("God" defined in the broadest sense) is the better story, I argue, just as I think the story with animals is the better story. But you choose."

"... The most frequently asked question: What does the island mean? It means what you choose to see in it. My narrative strategy in writing this book was to write a story that was progressively harder to believe. Will you believe that a boy could survive with a tiger? Yes? Good. Will you believe that the boy could go blind, the tiger could go blind and they could meet another blind man in another lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific? Yes? Great. Now will you believe in this crazy carnivorous island? I figure most readers will not believe it. Their suspension of disbelief will break down and readers will start making excuses for Pi: He's starving and hallucinating. In other words, reason will kick in. That's fine with me. But I hope that when readers get to Part Three of the novel and read the other story, the one without animals, that their revulsion at that story will be such that they, like the investigators, will choose the first story as the BETTER story. But I wanted that better story to have something unbelievable about it. I wanted it to get beyond the reasonable and the plausible. BECAUSE every great thing in life — be it religion, love, any ideal — has an element of the unreasonable to it. We are not computers. We need the pull of the unreasonable to get us through life. The island represents that unreasonable element in the first story."

What do you make of those responses from the author? Did it change your opinion at all? Personally, I think the "with animals" story is the more believable. If you choose to believe the "without animals" story, you probably think Pi imagined both the encounter with the Frenchman and the algae island. But then, how did the meerkat bones get in the lifeboat? Or do you think Pi's insistence that the bones (which the two investigators admitted were there) be checked to verify that they were in fact meerkat bones was just a bluff because he didn't think they'd actually have them examined?

I suppose there are different ways you can interpret the story that are arguable... I normally am not a fan of novels who leave the ending up to the reader. I always go with the more positive interpretation, which often is the opposite of what everyone else in my Book Club chooses. They usually laugh at what they consider my naivety, but I happen to hold it in high regard. What's wrong with choosing to stay on the positive side of things? : )

I'd love to hear what you think about the novel and which version you choose to be the real story. But please shoot me an email instead of leaving it in the comments, just in case someone who hasn't read the book peruses them. ; ) My addy is

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