Book #24

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, one solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild, blue Pacific. The crew of the surviving vessel consists of a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg), a female orang-utan, a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger and Pi - a 16-year-old Indian boy.

This book is a phenomenon. There aren't many books I'd say you have to read before you die, but this one fits the criteria and more. It's not only moving and beautifully written; it comes with lessons both inspiring and educational. I have learned so much about religion, spirituality, family, zoology, theology, the strength of man, and the power of storytelling. It really was a joy.

Although the bare bones of the tale give us a shipwrecked boy on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, and the details of his survival, after finishing the book you will realise this isn't really the point of the book. The point is difficult to place as it will mean something different to each person who reads it. I imagine if I read the book again (even immediately) it would mean something different to me again. The book can be perceived in different ways, and although it hasn't made me religious (as it has done for some), it certainly has had a profound effect on me, and left a lasting impression.

Martel is examining faith from all angles in Life of Pi. He makes the reader question their own beliefs and at the (extremely deliberate) anti-climactic ending, forces us to question which kind of person we are, and which kind of reality we prefer to perceive. If you think a certain way, the story can change for you at this point:
“The world isn't just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn't that make life a story?”
The religious aspect of the novel was particularly interesting to me. Pi originally practices Hinduism, but loves God to such a degree, he feels he has to subscribe to more religions. He researches both Christianity and Islam, and decides to accommodate all three in his daily worship. This really struck a chord with me, as although I find religious culture and detail fascinating, I have never subscribed to any particular one. I tend to find aspects of one religion to be in line with my beliefs, where some are against my morals entirely. If I could club together my own religion using bits and pieces of others, I certainly would. Pi deciding to devote himself to three different religions really made some cogs spin in my mind.

Martel writes beautifully, and I was constantly feeling as though I was in Pi's shoes - I could almost smell the saltwater. Each turn of the page, however, reminded me that I am too weak, too lazy, too absolutely pathetic, to survive in the way Pi did. He is an extraordinary person, with steel-like will. This goes back to faith again, as Pi never relented, never doubted in his God, and kept his faith even when the easiest option was to give up completely. This makes you think; this shows you who you are. Is there a point of going through all that effort to survive if you have no home and no family to go to? What about no God? I don't think I could have gone through it. That's the kind of person I am.

This is gorgeous, inspiring and spiritual on so many levels, but also brutal, primitive and downright barbaric in places. It contrasts well. I would urge anyone to give this a try, it has so many messages for us to consider. Absolutely, without a doubt, one to read before you die; although, hopefully not on the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger in your lifeboat.