Life of Pi: My book review

September 2, 2008

I just read Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  I really enjoyed it.  It’s the tale of a boy that is the sole survivor when the cargo ship that is taking his family from India to Canada abruptly sinks.  Pi, along with a hyena, orang-utan, zebra, and Bengal tiger share a 26-foot lifeboat.  (Pi’s father is a zoo-keeper.)  Soon it is just Pi and the tiger, named Richard Parker.  It is a richly imaginative story of a boy’s faith, will, intelligence, and compassion.  It’s an incredible story, an unbelievable story, and yet, as far-fetched as the circumstances are, it is plausible.  One thing makes it plausible is the intricate scientific knowledge that Pi has (and acquires) throughout the story about animals and the natural world, facts that he utilizes to survive 7 months with a huge predatory tiger.  Pi is also a fervent believer in God, and a boy with a heart that is eager to enjoy creation and contemplate the mysteries of life and love.  This theme of “science” (reason) – and “faith” (the soul leaping up to higher realities) – seems to be one that is cropping up a lot in my thinking these days.     I knew it was a work of fiction when I started it, and yet it really “worked” as an imaginative piece that held my attention.

Therefore,  I was annoyed and dismayed when, at the end of the story, investigators question Pi on the veracity of his story.  He offers a brief explanation – minus the animals – that would account for his adventure just as well.  But “Which is the better story?”  he asks.  The investigators have to admit that the first account was “the better story.”  This surprise twist, in which the reader never knows with certainty “what happened” got me thinking:  Why does it bug me that a fictional character may have explained his made-up experience differently than it “really happened.”  None of this really happened.  But my imagination wants to hold onto “the better story,” the story that focuses on the mystery and wonder of surviving a terrifying lifeboat trip with a tiger.  As Pi himself puts it to his skeptical questioners, “You want a story that won’t surprise you.  That will confirm what you already know.  That won’t make you see higher or further or differently.  You want a flat story.  An immobile story.  You want dry, yeastless factuality” (pg. 381).

The reason I love story and imagination is because I want to hear the better story.   God has given us intelligence and curiosity to understand facts, but it’s not enough.  He’s also given us imagination to draw our hearts to Him.   In this world of fact-seeking, rational pursuit of truth, I’d rather my experience be “An intellect confounded yet a trusting sense of presence and of ultimate purpose” (pg. 80).

That’s my two-cents worth about this book…

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