Author: Yann Martel
Genre: YA-ish (old man telling of his adventure at 16 years old)
Coffee Beans: 4/5
Content Rating: PG-13 (there's some extreme, graphic violence)
Favorite Line: "The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart." (pg 71, printed copy)
Cover Love: Simplisticly awesome
Instalove Factor: None present.
Personal Recommendation: Read it, but it's an investment of time and brain cells. But worth it.
Life of Pi is a very unique book written in so many layers about religion, survival, right and wrong and at a very collegiate level. The writing is fantastic (almost hypnotic at times), the details both captivating and repulsive, and the overall story so imaginative, I can't help but wonder, What was the point?
Let me explain.
The book is a lot like the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks, but on a boat instead of an island and with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker instead of a volleyball named Wilson.
But there wasn't any real storyline or significant plot in the traditional sense. This boy is lost out at sea for 227 days before he's found (and you know he survives because this book is an interview, you find that out in the beginning). The first quarter of the book is about his childhood growing up, how he got his nickname Pi, his schooling, and what it was like to grow up living in a zoo (his father was the head man at the Pondicherry Zoo in India). While it was fascinating to learn the ins and outs of zoos and the different animals, the narrative was almost written like a nonfiction, collegiate fashion that somewhat bored me and I ended up skimming a little.
He also goes into theology. Pi, as a young boy (he's sixteen through most of this), constantly says that he just wants to love God. As a result, he starts to follow not one religion, but three. Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. Needless to say, this was a bit of an ordeal for his agnostic parents and the religious leaders of the different houses of worship he was attending when they all found out, but you couldn't help but want to encourage young Pi in his journey of seeking God. After all, he just wanted to love God, so why did he have to pick only one religion to do so. While that vein of his life story was interesting, going into the dry, theological details of each religion was not, so I skimmed some of this, at times, as well.
The next section was the majority of the book, and consisted of his story being stuck out at sea. This was the most interesting part of the book, obviously. And while it didn't have any on the edge of your seat action/peril/look out! moments, it was still very interesting. Martel has a subtle way of telling the details of a story that seep into every pore of your body. As Pi was baking from the sun and his skin getting tortured by the salt spray, I could have sworn my skin tightened with dehydration. I really could taste his victory of food and fresh water when he found it, and was scared for him being exposed in the wild Pacific ocean. This, to me, was the best part of the book, but I couldn't help but wish for more of a story arc.
The last section of the book (about twenty pages or so) takes place when his ordeal ends. Even though this was the smallest section, I almost liked this the most. I got more personality from Pi, and this was where the most thought provoking element of the book comes from. You are presented with a question, and given the background of the book, and everything we learn about Pi, it's not the question I thought it was going to be when I started reading the book. As a reader, you are given two very plausible outcomes or paths to choose that come from the question. It's almost heart wrenching, the different possibilities. One is so real, and so tragic, that you don't want to pick that answer, you're more willing to pick the more fantastical option, however absurd it may be.
But in the end, the answer I chose to believe, I hope that is the truth. Because it is a sad and beautiful possibility.
I would love to get a discussion group together to talk about this book to see what everyone's thoughts were, how they reacted to the storyline, which answer they believe to be correct and why, and just to hear their overall impressions. I also am planning on going to see the movie. I heard it was fantastic and very beautifully filmed and followed the book masterfully.
In the end, I would recommend this book. It's not an easy read, nor is it a light read. And you may end up like me at the end, wondering what the whole point was, while still understanding what the whole point was. But all-in-all, it was worth my time.
Happy reading, my friends!