Life of Pi by Yann Martel came with high expectations. It sits on the best seller list and it came recommended by such diverse sources the Sunday bulletin at my Catholic church and a Hindu friend. The Sunday bulletin also touted a discussion group led by one of the resident priests. The discussion group seem less surprising once I discovered the book came with its own discussion group guide. I decided to skip the discussion group but purchased the book anyway.
Leave your high expectations behind you. This is a gentle meandering story with no astonishing insights. Our hero Pi Patel, who has changed his name because his birth name Piscine (pronounced “Pissing”) led to much ridicule, grows up the son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry India. On his way to Canada, the ship he and his family is aboard sinks and he is the only human survivor. Joining him in the life raft is a 450-pound Bengal tiger. The meat of the tale is his 277-day journey aboard the boat. The most intense feeling is the boredom and hopelessness of that time.
I said there were no astonishing insights but there is a moral to this allegorical tale. Pi learns to live in relative harmony and safety with a wild tiger aboard a lifeboat. He then finds an idyllic paradise, which turns out to be less than idyllic. Faced with the reality of his paradise, he chooses to tae his chances in the lifeboat again and also chooses to take the tiger along. Unique as his circumstances are, his choices are no different than those we face.
If you do as I say and leave your high expectations behind, you will be free to enter into this odd world. You will discover that, at first, in his search for God, Pi cannot get enough of religion. He becomes a Christian, a Hindu and a Muslim simultaneously. In the lifeboat, his religion falls away and even talk of God falls away. Yet God becomes ever-present in his life, a fact evidenced only by a small comment in his post-rescue interview.
Life of Pi works on many levels. It is an interesting, amusing story. It is a story of life and our relationship to God. It is an in-depth character study of the protagonist. It oversells itself with the accompanying discussion guide. Without the oversell, it is a fine tale, sure to be around for generations.