March 6, 2009

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I picked up this book not really knowing anything about it. I only knew it was considered to be a good book and had an Indian boy in it. I became intrigued as I read the book jacket. A story that will make me believe in God? As someone that struggles with doubt and is always looking for definitive explanations, I was hoping to get some answers from this book.

I didn't get any. I guess this book may make someone believe in God that didn't grow up in a religious household, but really, aside from a few interesting remarks about God I just didn't see it. In fact this kept me up for awhile. I couldn't just put the book aside and start a new one right away like I normally do, I had to resolve whatever it was that was bothering me. After sleeping on it I figured it out. The boy in this book, Pi, goes through an extraordinary ordeal. And the boy in this book has an extraordinary belief system. But Martel fails to bring these two things, faith and events, together in even the most obvious ways.

As Pi is experiencing a series of trials and tribulation, he certainly displays an unflagging optimism. And he performs certain religious rituals by rote. But while he appreciates the bounty of nature around him or marvels at this thing or that thing, he does not connect any of it with God. God remains separate, and that separation fails to reinforce my belief in God. It's a shame.

Otherwise, this is an amazing book. I'm not much of one for survival books, but I was able to get past that. A boy stranded on a lifeboat with a bengal tiger? If nothing else I had to find out what a writer could do with a premise like that. Beyond the story, Martel's arguments about zoos were fascinating, and could easily be applied to society and politics. And it was interesting that he was drawn to three major religions, demonstrating a vague but catholic understanding of theology and faith.

Almost every reviewer called this book humorous. I disagree. This book is not "haha" funny at all. There are certain instances in which I almost said "Ha!" aloud, but more out of surprise or empathy than amusement. If any part of the book was amusing it was the section at the end that provided questions for book clubs, questions that seemed to totally miss the mark. I definitely LOL'd at "If you were stranded on a lifeboat, what animal would you like to be stranded with?"

The thing that leaves me thinking about this book is the quality of truth versus fiction. It's like The Sixth Sense. You think you know the story and the facts, then at the end you find out he was dead all along. No, Pi was not dead all along, but it's something like that, something that leaves you wondering if you really read what you thought you read. I don't know how else to explain it. It forces you to reconcile your thoughts in different ways.

Very highly recommended, but take your fish oil, you'll need all your brain cells well lubricated if they're going to wrap around it.


  1. Every time I read a review for this book, I look forward to it more. Thanks!

  2. This book has been on my to-read list for a while, but I'm not sure if I like it or hate it. I imagine it's going to be strong one way or the other.

  3. Okay, you have convinced me to try it out!

  4. I was so on the fence about whether I even wanted to try this one, but I'm glad I took a dive as I loved it! That's the whole reason why I took the time to re-read your review after finishing this evening, though I should be in bed.

    You're right about the discussion questions being laughable. A couple I found helpful in digesting it, but for the most part they are way off base. Other parts, though, I found humorous, especially a lot of what happened in the first part of the book.

    I think the "this story will make you believe in God" thing has to do with the end, when he's asking the Japanese interrogators which story was better. Each story was just as implausable, but one was much more fantastic. Just like we could believe that there is a God who created and holds together every aspect of the universe, we can believe that it all came about through science (big bang, evolution, etc.). Both are implausable on various levels, but one is a much better story. Thus Pi says, "and so it goes with God." Personally, that's a weak reason to believe in God, but certainly doesn't hurt, I suppose.


Thanks for joining our discussion of this book!

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