Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The protagonist, Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Life of Pi is the second novel I read for literature class and again it was a novel I would never have read otherwise, and enjoyed tremendously. There’s something to be said for required reading, not forced required reading, but like book clubs and classes at school which push you to read outside your comfort zone.
I watched the movie prior to reading the book, something I never do, because I was certain that I would not like the book, but had heard the movie was visually stunning. I was both wrong and right. I was wrong about the book, but right about the movie.
Life of Pi did not interest me at first, or even halfway through. It took me until the three quarter mark to finally begin to appreciate the story. The analysis we did in class clinched the deal. I still don’t think the beginning section needed to be as detailed and drawn out as it is, but the novel as a whole is extremely well constructed.
Life of Pi is a story of survival, of a boy, lost at sea, forced to rely on his intelligence to fish and stay afloat. Pi, a peaceful vegetarian, must cope with going against his morals to survive. He must also gain the courage necessary to control Richard Parker, and ensure their survival. Unlike most survival stories which gloss over the details and in a way glorify these situations, Life of Pi does not exclude the gore, it does not exclude the harsh details of Pi’s daily life and it does not fast forward in time, rather you feel the weight of the time Pi spends at sea in the repetitive scenes.
It is a story of the power of faith to motivate and provide light in the darkness. And as Pi points out, atheism is a faith too, and the worlds of science and religion can peacefully coexist. Pi majored in both zoology and religious studies and to him, religion can be found in nature, and the natural world in religion. He explains that you need science to live – to grow food, to build a boat, but religion to exist – to lead a meaningful, purposeful life. Both are equally important.
Life of Pi is also a story about stories, about the fine line between truth and fiction. We are told a story by Pi, that is fantastical, yet profound, objectively unbelievable, yet subjectively captivating and compelling. As a reader, you are left to decide whether you want to believe in Pi’s story or not, whether your logical mind can choose the better story. It pushes you to ask yourself why you believe in fantasy, and how truth in narration does not necessary equate to a better story.