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"I may not know how to fly but I know how to read and that's almost the same thing."-- Gregory Maguire, Out of Oz

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Life of Pi by Yann Martel


Pi Patel, unfortunately named after a pool, is a peculiarly devout boy growing up in India. His family consider themselves to be "Modern Indians" preferring to put their faith in Business than in God; his practises are unorthodox to his preachers and perplexing to his family.  The shifting of politics in India, force Pi's father to make the decision to sell off the zoo he owned and operated, and emigrate to Canada, beginning Pi's miraculous journey across the Pacific. After the cargo ship, transporting Pi's family and animals goes down, Pis is left stranded on a lifeboat with his belief in a higher power and a dangerous Bengal tiger...

I don't consider myself agnostic or atheist, but I'm not traditionally religious... My parents aren't religious, they didn't take me to church or instruct me on what we believed; I was left to make my own conclusions about the world as I saw fit. I grew up believing in the power of books above all else; books that were meant to teach and books that were meant to entertain, not that either were always mutually exclusive. I worshiped in libraries and bookstores, in school cafeterias and in my own backyard; as someone who's got her own ideas about God, I loved the message this book sent out. "I just want to love God," Pi responds, when confronted by a priest, a pandit, and an imam, who tell him there is no such thing as a practising Hindu-Christian-Muslim, and he must choose only one. How can you not love Pi just a little for defying religious conventions that have sparked so many wars?

Over and over Pi's faith is tested by another recurring theme: The primal need to survive. Pi's been a vegetarian his whole life and now, lost at sea with an animal that is willing to kill to survive and a limited stash of food and water, Pi's going to have to make some tough decisions. In order to keep the tiger from viewing Pi as a potential meal, he has to establish himself as an Alpha and a Provider. That means being more aggressive than the 450-lb cat that threatens his life and ultimately, learning to kill.

I love the metaphors Algae Island offers; Algae Island is a floating island of algae that grows trees to harvest sunlight, has plentiful fresh water pools that poison saltwater fish, and is overpopulated by mindless meerkats... Here on the island, Pi and Richard Parker find everything they need, it's a literal paradise. There's edible greens for Pi and meat for Richard Parker. There's plenty of freshwater and protection from the harsh elements. I can't help seeing a metaphorical Eden at this point in the story. The meerkats -- Pi notes they originate from Africa, while I note Africa as the known birthplace of humanity -- are content living in their mysterious floating garden. Its only when Pi's curiosity becomes too much to bear and he plucks a strange fruit from a strange tree, that he realizes he can't stay on the island forever. He and Richard Parker must leave and never return.

And of course, now we hit the one flaw in the book. The abrupt transition between being lost at sea and making landfall in Mexico. They're at sea--and then they're not. I suppose there is some kind of mirror there, something to be said about the abrupt goodbye to the ocean and the abrupt disappearance of Richard Parker... Pi will eventually be questioned about the loss of the cargo ship and his journey. The officials think his story is a tragic lie, invented to cover up trauma from the actual tragedy. In response Pi tells them another story, more brutal than the first and asks them to sort out for themselves which one they prefer, which one is truth. I won't lie here; the very last paragraph of the book made me cry a little.

Rating 5/5

Ps. It should be noted that the Author's Note is part of the storyline...Just in case you want to read Life of Pi and considered skipping the AN.

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