Thursday, December 20, 2007

Life of Pi

At the start of Life of Pi - the main character immediately professes his belief in God. I would typically be skeptical of this type of book and its message. In the end, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised.

I liked Martel's writing and desciptions. Part of the book describes the main character (Pi) and his study of religion as a teenager. He joins three religions, Islam, Roman Catholicism and Hinduism. He doesn't explain to the three local leaders (imam, priest, pandit etc.) what he's doing. He appreciates the mysticism/spirituality of each religion - ignoring the differences.

At one poignant moment, the imam, priest and the Hindu equivalent (pandit) show up at Pi's family home. They start arguing when they realize that their new prodigy, Pi, has joined all three. "You must choose one" they all say. They criticize one another and point out the differences between their faiths. Pi aptly notes that it was his first experience with interfaith dialogue. And he continues his study of all three despite their protests.

In his philosophizing, Pi brings up chanson's argument that atheists believe something. He denigrates agnostics as not believing anything.

He is suggesting that atheist belief is similar to faith (something I am pretty sure chanson disagrees with). Although he obviously tries to understand different points of view (the older Pi we read about has a degree in theology and zoology), he isn't very tolerant of the agnostic. He doesn't explain his intolerance very well, except that the atheist is (in his mind) a believer, while the agnostic is eternally skeptical.

The bulk of the novel involves the unlikely scenario of a sixteen year old (Pi) trapped on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a 450 lb. Bengal Tiger. Through the course of the story, he is able to stay alive by convincing the tiger that he is the alpha male. The tiger had already slain a castaway hyena, zebra and an orangutan. The tiger was dangerous, hungry and out of his element on the ocean. Yet Pi is able to exert his dominance, much like a lion tamer in a circus ring.

The author suggests that in reality, freedom is an illusion. Animals in zoos actually prefer the routine of the zoo. He cites examples (who knows if they are real or not) of escaped animals returning to the zoo - the place where they know their territory and are fed regularly. In that sense, I understand his point. Not that zoos don't present ethical dilemmas - I'm not saying that I support zoos. But the theory that an animal would want to be "free" where they were forced to define their own territory and find food is not always true. Who can say that an animal doesn't honestly appreciate knowing where it's territory is and where it's next meal will come from? I don't think he's suggesting that we should add more animals to zoos - I think he's just saying that freeing all the animals in the zoos is not a solution.

And, as far as humanity goes, we too are very attached to our comforts of life. We discuss the concept of freedom, but we have homes to return to, jobs to fulfill - communities to build.

Martel writes "If you went to a home, kicked down the front door, chased the people who lived there into the street and said 'Go! You are free! Free as a bird! Go! Go!' Do you think they would shout and dance for joy? They wouldn't..."(p. 17)

All in all, the book posed many fascinating questions and dilemmas. And put forth a different point of view, one that I don't hear very often. This is definitely a book I would recommend to my parents and in laws, one with moral and ethical questions. In some ways, the novel is savage with in its honesty about animals and human nature.


Freckle Face Girl said...

That sounds like a book I would like. I'm going to start keeping a list of your suggestions.

Aerin said...

FFG - I've labeled all the books with books - so you can always come back to the list. AND - I just recently joined "" - I'll send you the link if you'd like. It's a little like myspace for readers.