Life of Pi

Life of PiThis may become a modern classic. Life of Pi is a beautifully written story about a young Indian boy who is a Hindu, a Christian, and a Muslim. He finds himself floating on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, and a 450 pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. No, it’s not a nicey-nice Disney adventure where the animals all talk and love the humans. It gets bloody, gruesome, and harrowing along the way and a bit dark in the end. Life of Pi, when you sit back and reflect on it, holds much more meaning than it may first appear to. It’s a tragic story of survival and faith, wrapped around an adventure. A fable really. It’s very deserving of the Booker Prize that it won in 2002 (or is it? see later note on alleged plagiarism), void of the pretentiousness of some of the previous (and later) winners. The reader even learns some interesting concepts of zoology, zookeeping and animal training along the way.

Well-meaning but misinformed people think animals in the wild are “happy” because they are “free”….The life of the wild animal is simple, noble and meaningful they imagine. Then it is captured by wicked men and thrown into tiny jails. Its “happiness” is dashed. It yearns mightily for “freedom” and does all it can to escape. Being denied its “freedom” for too long, the animal becomes a shadow of itself, its spirit broken. So some people imagine.

This is not the way it is.

Animals in the wild lead lives of compulsion and necessity within an unforgiving social hierarchy in an environment where the supply of fear is high and the supply of food low and where territory must constantly be defended and parasites forever endured. What is the meaning of freedom in such a context?

I could read this book again, especially since there was an unexpected twist near the end that makes you rethink the entire novel. And the book may be even darker than I first realized as I came across some intruiging takes on some of the symbolism in it from online reviews.

I do agree with one point that a reviewer who panned it made. The author and marketers of the book (and a character in the book) claims it will “make you believe in God”. It’s a great novel and story, but I don’t think it will alter anyone’s belief system. They should have done without the hyperbole. The story doesn’t need it. And I must note that I loved it despite it being written by a Canadian (kidding). There was also some controversy surrounding whether the author, Yann Martel, may have “borrowed” some ideas for the story, from reading a review of another novel.

Look out for a film version, to be directed by the excellent M. Night Shyamalan. I would think it would be a difficult adaptation, but if anyone can make it work, Shyamalan can.

I’ve travelled the vast Pacific with Pi. Next, I’ll be travelling through Australia with Bill Bryson.

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