Ross Reads: Life of Pi

Posted: 2007-08-01 in General
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Life of Pi
Yann Martel

Life of Pi by Yann Martel is one of those novels that everyone and their mother seems to have read about 5 years ago, but ended up on my bookshelf, only to be overlooked and forgotten in multiple moves.  I finally pulled it out to take with me on my trip to Houston and ended up absolutely loving it.

Piscine Molitor Patel, known to "all" as Pi (i.e. 3.14), comes from a small Indian territory called Pondicherry.  Son of a zookeeper, Pi has spent part of his youth exploring and practicing multiple religions, from his native Hinduism to Islam to Christianity.  When Pi is sixteen, his family and their zoo animals emigrate from India to Canada aboard a Japanese cargo ship, which sinks along the way.  Pi finds himself stuck in a lifeboat with a number of zoo animals, including a 450-pound Bengal tiger.

The book tells more than the story of a stranded teenager and his ark full of animals.  It is a look into religious beliefs and faith, the importance (or lack thereof) of material goods in one's life, and the indomitable will of human beings and animals to not only survive, but flourish under conditions of adversity.  Pi's story is told non-linearly, with interruptions to recount stories of his past or accounts of interviews that occur in his future.  Rather than detracting from the plot, this only serves to strengthen the story-line and give deeper emotion to every castaway scene the reader encounters.

Yann Martel's prose is beautiful and humorous.  Descriptions of the littlest thing can leave you wondering why you never looked at the item that way before, and his observations on people and religions are interesting and often profound.  "Pi" characterizes scientists early on as:

I never had problems with my fellow scientists.  Scientists are a friendly, atheistic, hard-working, beer drinking lot whose minds are preoccupied with sex, chess and baseball when they are not preoccupied with science.

But one of my favorite passages deals with his philosophical view of life and death:

When you've suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling.  My life is like a memento mori painting from European art: there is always a grinning skull at my side to remind me of the folly of human ambition.  I mock this skull.  I look at it and I say, "You've got the wrong fellow.  You may not believe in life, but I don't believe in death.  Move on!"  The skull snickers and moves ever closer, but that doesn't surprise me.  The reason death sticks so closely to life isn't biological necessity-it's envy.  Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs what it can.  But life leaps over oblivion lightly; losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud.

Life of Pi
lends an element of the fantastic to the story, while at the same time appears as if the story could have be an all-too-real occurrence.  The unique blend of zoological, philosophical, and religious insights draws you in and lets your mind chew on a heavy meal while your eyes hunger for the rest of Pi's castaway tale.  It's a brilliant story by a wonderful storyteller, and one I'd recommend for anyone who wants a deeper look into the human condition.

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  1. Steve Betz says:

    I think like you — this is one that has never quite percolated to the top of my "to read" list.
    I've heard so many good things about it though it might have to get there.


  2. mariser says:

    [isto é bom]


  3. Ross says:

    That's awesome…I loved both of those movies, and actually thought Life of Pi would make a very good film, if they could get across all the anguish and adversity Pi faces while stranded. I'm not a screenplay writer and have no experience in the area so I don't know if it's harder than it seems it would be.


  4. Lightchaser says:

    Coincidentally, my roommate is reading this book right now, and I'm feeling guiltier than ever for getting round to doing so. Looks like there are quite a few of us in the same boat, lol. But I'm going to take the book from her when she's done.Great review, and I love the excerpted passages.


  5. I remember reading this a while ago. I really liked it back then – maybe I should clean out my bookshelf and re-read my books – like this one.


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