Thursday, June 29, 2006

Book: Life of Pi by Yann Martell

I first saw this book back in my senior year of college, when I was on a big pi (the number) kick, after seeing Pi (the movie). I always meant to pick it up, but hardcovers were more than I could afford and I kind of forgot about it by the time it came to paperback. Then I found it for a quarter at a garage sale a few months ago. Score!

Life of Pi actually has very little to do with pi, the number. It has everything to do with Pi Patel, an Indian (from India) who spends the first third of the book in a remarkable search for religious truth. Much to the chagrin of his family, he becomes a Hindu, Christian, and Muslim at the same time. In his mind, the religions marry seamlessly, although it's clear they do not in the eyes of those around him, including his religious teachers.

The second two-thirds involve a shipwreck and a tiger. Pi's family owns a zoo, and decides to immigrate to Canada. On the way, their ship sinks and Pi is the only survivor, along with a hyena, a wounded zebra, and orangutan, and a tiger. Then, it's Pi and the tiger, on a 26-foot lifeboat.

In the introduction, the later-life Pi character (who is dictating the story many years after the fact) claims his tale would "make you believe in God." I'm not sure if that's true, but after I finished the book I felt like I do when looking at all wonderful human accomplishments intended to pay homage to an incite belief in an almighty - for example, the overwhelming awe I felt when walking into Canturbury Cathedral, or the humbling might of Durham Cathedral. I certainly liked the novel, and I can't decide if the ending (which I will not spoil) really was a happy one or not. The funny thing is, it reinforces more of my Buddhist worldview than it does any aspect of Hinduism, Christianity, or Islam, but I suppose the author would be satisfied with that result.

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