Life of Pi by Yann Martel
I usually do my review within a day or two of finishing a book- but I must admit- this book was so emotionally draining I had to set it aside and try to stop thinking about it. No luck in erasing the visions from my mind… the thoughts stayed with me… lingered persistently… they plagued me. So I’ll do my review now and put it to rest.
This is the story of Pi Patel’s miraculous survival during 200+ danger-filled days on the open sea in a lifeboat. The introduction tells you that the story has a happy ending and it will make you believe in God. I’m not so sure about either one of these things. I’m not sure you should even read the book. But Pi does live to tell the story.
Told in 3 parts, Part 1 is life before the shipwreck. Piscine Molitor Patel- nicknamed Pi, son of a zoo keeper- a carefree teenager; happy, curious, intelligent, and spiritual. In fact Pi seriously practices three religions: Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. He doesn’t think the provincial dogma much matters. There is but one God. And if your destination is to reach him, what difference does the method make? Why not just pray to him in a variety of ways?
In Part 2, the emotional trauma begins. Pi’s father has closed the zoo in India and sold the exotic animals. The family is on the way to Canada to start a new life with many of the animals are on-board a Japanese cargo ship heading to zoos in Canada and the United States. There is a storm, an explosion, and the ship sinks. There’s chaos, hysteria, panic, and confusion with Pi ending up on a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a tiger named Richard Parker. This is Pi’s journey. And he survives his 227-day ordeal at sea. It is a dark, uncensored, gruesome, nauseating journey.
Part 3 – Pi’s journey ends. He is weak, starving, and lethargic, but has an unbroken spirit. He is trying to explain to the Japanese insurance investigators exactly what happened. But who would believe such a story. They think Pi is either crazy, delirious, or making a joke. They relentlessly ask, “What really happened?” It is just too miraculous to believe. But it did happen, just as Pi says… or did it? So Pi gives the investigators a second story; a story of “dry yeastless factuality”… the phrase Pi uses to describe the kind of story an agnostic would like… the kind of story they are asking for, and then tells them to choose. After all, it’s the same theory Pi used for religion. What difference does the story make; the end result is that he survived and “the story with animals is better.” In Pi’s words, “And so it goes with God.”
Yann Martel is a wonderful storyteller and Life of Pi won Martel the 2004 Booker Prize. There are moments of beauty and moments of humor. But read at your own risk. What disturbs me is the cannibalism… presented in an abstract, subtle way, but none-the-less Cannibalism. This is the second book Martel wrote with cannibalism content. Is this a fetish, or what! It astounds me that other people gave this book rave reviews. They talk enthusiastically about how much they “loved” the story. Are people so desensitized that the vivid descriptions of human brutality do not even faze them? Regardless… whether it was Pi’s made up story, a hallucination, or the truth, it was just too vulgar of a read for me.
All contents © 2010 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.