Thursday, September 25, 2008

Life of Pi

Pi, the eccentric practitioner of three religions –Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity – survives for 227 days aboard with a constantly hungry Bengal tiger on a lifeboat. The 2002 Man Booker Prize winner “Life of Pi” presents a tale of religion in practice, one which proves that religion and bleak, horrible realism could be reconciled. A story of faith, destiny, and survival, “Life of Pi” was written by Yann Martel at a time when the world was preoccupied with the tragic 9/11 and its bleak consequences. It was written at a time when the world observed the advent of a Third World War potentially because of the war of religions.

Yann Martel is quite a religious novelist. “Life of Pi” could be analyzed in terms of how unbelievable elements in religion could be justified and lead to belief in faith. According to Martel, “[the novel]... is full of elements that are highly unlikely but not impossible”, like living on a boat with a hungry tiger, encountering a fellow shipwreck on the pacific, encountering a carnivorous island which is biologically impossible. However at the end of the novel these elements turn out to be much more believable than the so-called real, true, and heinous story that Pi is forced to tell and which SEEMS more believable and less impossible. Quoting Martell again, “Religion is the better way to interpret the world.”

“Life of Pi” is also a story of growing up from innocence into experience, from naive idealism into bleak realism, from Pi into Tiger: “A part of me did not want [the tiger] to die at all, because if he died I would be left alone with despair, a foe even more formidable than a tiger. If I still had the will to live, it was thanks to [the tiger]. He kept me from thinking too much about my family and my tragic circumstances. He pushed me to go on living. I hate it for it, yet at the same time I was grateful. I am grateful. It’s the plain truth: without [the tiger], I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story.” (219)

“Life of Pi” is also interesting from a cultural perspective. It is the story of an Indian family from the post-independence India. The family owns a zoo and Pi’s observations and reflections on their zoo and animals is very much symbolic concerning the social issues of colonialism and liberalism. Here is what Pi tells the tiger at the end of the story, when the tiger is set loose: “You have known the confined freedom of a zoo most of your life; now you will know the free confinement of a jungle.” (384)

“Life of Pi” is a multi-layered and quite touching novel. It is a unique experience, because you read a novel filled with dark, gloomy, and grotesque elements. Yet at the end of the last page you feel positive and hopeful. “Life of Pi” offers one of the best Last Paragraphs of my recent readings.


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