Life of Pi (2001with so many glorious reviews it took me years to finally pick up a copy and read!) How do you begin to summaries a story that is filled with tragedy, hope, and faith in the same sentence? Simply put, it is a very fascinating tale about an attempt to survive on a lone lifeboat in the Pacific – the strength it takes to carry on, persevering through the boredom, unquenchable thirst, the sheer terror of being trapped with a dangerous animal, and constantly being afraid of making the wrong move, which may result in your sudden death. It was extremely uncomfortable to read at times – can’t imagine getting to the point of eating an animals feces! In a novel where not a lot ‘happens’, everything is heightened. I both could and couldn’t possibly imagine Pi’s desperate, burdensome circumstances.
This was not one of my favorite novels, and I find myself wondering what I must be missing that so many people have rated this a classic. There is plenty I could enjoyed telling other people about: his survival (I feel I have learned a lot), Richard Parker, Pi’s childhood – which because of the pronunciation of his name made me wonder if that was more troubling than the events on the life boat…I”m sensitive like that! There are so many unexpected twists and turns, from the very beginning of the story to the interview with the Japanese investigators. I couldn’t help but find him an endearing character, quite a feat when he’s really the only character.
Two themes were relevant to what I took away from the story the first being how antagonist and protagonist perceive life for animals in a zoo…after reading the story I will go with the protagonist. These words are spoken by Pi early in Part One, at the end of chapter 4, after a long discussion of zoo enclosures. Mr. Patel, Pi has recently told us, runs the Pondicherry Zoo, a place that Pi considered paradise as a boy. Pi has heard many people say negative things about zoos—namely that they deprive noble, wild creatures of their freedom and trap them in boring, domesticated lives—but he disagrees. Wild animals in their natural habitat encounter fear, fighting, lack of food, and parasites on a regular basis. Given all these biological facts, animals in the wild are not free at all—rather, they are subject to a stringent set of social and natural laws that they must follow or die. Since animals are creatures of habit, zoo enclosures, with abundant food and water, clean cages, and a constant routine, are heaven for them. Given the chance, Pi says, most zoo animals do not ever try to escape, unless something in their cage frightens them. Makes sense to me!
Theme two is about fear…which there was plenty of in this book…Here are the words again spoken by Pi on the subject - “I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always ... so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”
The moral of the story is pretty clear, and revealed at the end when Pi is forced to tell an alternate version of the story to Japanese investigators… with a sailor with a broken leg, a French cook, Pi, and Pi’s mother. Eventually, we realize that the zebra is the sailor, the hyena is the cook, and the orangutan is Pi’s mother, and the tiger, Richard Parker, is actually Pi. The details of cannibalism and savagery are gruesome. Finally, Pi simply asks the author, “Which story do you prefer?” Given the two versions…I will take the first!
*All images from Google Image Search