***WARNING MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, DON’T CONTINUE IF YOU WANT TO READ THE BOOK WITHOUT KNOWING THE ENDING***
After taking a moment to compose himself, Pi then relates this dry factuality; this other story. Instead of miraculous story with an orangutan, a hyena, and a tiger Pi relates a horrifying story of ugly selfishness and despair. In this story four people survive, Pi, his mother, the ships cook and a sailor. The cook is a madman. He kills the sailor, who had a badly broken leg, to use as bait for fish. The cook torments the survivors in every way, eating all of the food and abusing everyone verbally and physically. After catching the cook in an act of cannibalism, Pi’s mom explodes and slaps the cook. Soon the cook kills her too. In the end Pi kills the cook and then “Solitude begins. I turned to God. I survived.”
The men try and digest this story and seek clues to why the ship sank. Pi can’t help them there; he has no idea why the ship sank. Finally, they feel they have the information they need and prepare to leave. Before they leave Pi has one question:
So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which story is the better story, the story with the animals or the story without animals?
Both men choose the story with the animals. Pi responds: "Thank you. And so it goes with God."
This ending weakened the power of the book for me. I find it hard to read this story any other way then to assume that the horrific story of murder and cannibalism is the actual story of what physically happened. What the author seems to be saying is that God is a better story. That religion is a tool to see life in a new light. That all things being equal isn’t it better to believe in the mystery and beauty of a wonderful story? Like a great deal of post-modernist thinking there is kernel of truth in this view. People of faith know that a cold materialist view of life fails to explain what it means to be human. It fails to explain art and beauty, love and wisdom, a meaning beyond ourselves. Faith surely encompasses tradition and experiences that can’t be tied down to cold hard facts. But what is missing is truth. Nowhere in the story does the issue of truth come up. Pi does not embrace religion because it is true or a warped human approximation of eternal truth. The contrast between the two stories is not between what is true and what isn’t between what captures the essence of what happened and what doesn’t. No, for Pi the difference is what each story offers. One offers pain and suffering and despair while the other at least offers some beauty, some hope.