The Life of Pi
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It is not so much that The Life of Pi, is particularly moving (although it is). It isn’t even so much that it is written with language that is both delicate and sturdy all at once (which it is, as well). And it’s certainly not that Yann Martel’s vision filled passages are so precise that you begin to feel the salt water on your skin (even though they are). It is that, like Bohjalian and Byatt and all of the great Houdini’s of the literary world, in the last few moments of your journey – after you’ve felt the emotions, endured the moments of heartache, yearned for the resolution of the characters’ struggle – that you realize the book is not what you thought it was. The story transforms, instantly, and forever.
And in those last few chapters, you suddenly realize that the moral has changed as well.
You feel Martel’s words lingering, suggesting, and you find yourself wondering whether you are his atheist who takes the deathbed leap of faith – hoping for white light and love? Or the agnostic who , in trying to stay true to his reasonable self, explains the mysteries of life and death in only scientific terms, lacking imagination to the end, and, essentially, missing the better story?
There is no use in trying to provide a brief synopsis for this ravishing tale of a young boy from India left adrift in the Pacific in a lifeboat with a tiger who used to reside in his father’s zoo in Pondicherry. There is no use because once you finish the book you might decide that this was not, indeed, what the book was about at all. There is no use because, depending on your philosophical bent, the book will mean something very different to your best friend than it will to you. There is no use because it is nearly impossible to describe what makes this book so grand.
Read this book. Not because it is an exceptional piece of literary talent. It is, of course. But there are many good authors and many good books. While uncommon, they are not endangered. Read this book because in recent memory – aside from Jose Saramago’s arresting Blindness – there have been no stories which make such grand statements with such few elements. As Pi says in his story “Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher.” It is the same with Martel’s undulating fable of a book about a boy in a boat with a tiger. A simple story with potentially life altering consequences for it’s readers.
As Martel writes, “The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no?” Like Schroedinger’s cat in the box, the way this book is understood, the way it is perceived affects what it is. There has been some talk that this book will make it’s readers believe in god. I think it’s a question of perspective. To behold this gem of a novel as an adventure of man against the elements (the “dry, yeastless factuality” of what actually happened) is certainly one way to go about it. But to understand this piece to be something indescribable, something godlike, is by far the greater leap of faith.