Saturday, October 24, 2009

"The story with animals is the better story"

Last Friday, I finished Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I had been reading this novel for a couple weeks, but it was not one of those books that I could spend a whole hour reading. The longest period that I read was probably 30 minutes. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it and as it progressed, I became more curious about the conclusion of such an outrageous story. It is a tale of a young Indian boy who finds himself alone on a lifeboat with several zoo animals that survived a shipwreck. His family was moving their zoo from India to Canada when the boat capsized. The premise of the book appears absurd and unrealistic, yet it enhances one's imagination and stretches boundaries. Pi, the narrator and protagonist, provides the reader with his background in the first half of the book. This prefaces his later discussions of morals, beliefs, and of course, God. The book does not draw conclusions for the reader, but it presents opportunities and situations to challenge the reader to take more from the tale than the simple enjoyment of Pi's adventure.

The story of Pi contains stories within the stories. It is tale that encourages belief. It is a tale that provokes optimism. Despite the raw and realistic descriptions of Pi's desperate survival, the story begs for the reader to hope and believe. But, it is more than the belief in good and survival. I wanted to believe in Pi. By the end of the book, I wished I could hear his story firsthand as he fought to survive and how he found strength and comedy (despite some of the absurdity) among his experiences on the small boat with a Bengal tiger.

My favorite thing about the novel is that it is written in first person. I love that Pi is the narrator of his own story. I do not think that the story would have the same impact or poignancy if it had been told in third person. Pi's methodical mind is important to his survival. His choice to use his mind over strength is an important factor. He knows immediately that he is in charge of his own survival. His family and every creature on the boat have disappeared. Pi is alone at sea and left at the mercy of the sea, whatever it may bring. To add a twist to the story, he is trapped on the boat with an orangutan, a hyena, a zebra, and a tiger. It is an unlikely and anxious crew. When Pi and Richard Parker (the tiger) are the only two that remain on the boat, Pi worries about how he will survive on the boat with the 450 lb carnivore. He considers many plans about how to rid the lifeboat of Richard Parker (ways to kill him), and when none seem probable, he chooses his final plan (Plan Number Six: Wage a War of Attrition). He will survive with Richard Parker by letting nature run it's course. All Pi has to do is survive longer than the tiger. But, as the story unfolds Pi's survival and morale depend on his relationship with Richard Parker.

Another obvious aspect of the story is the notion of time. It is an obsession of humanity that is valued, scrutinized, saved, lost, regretted, and some times disregarded. As Pi is telling his story, he recognizes that time has no meaning on the boat.
He says, "Time is an illusion that only makes us pant. I survived because I forgot even the very notion of time. What I remember are events and encounters and routines, markers that emerged here and there from the ocean of time and imprinted themselves on my memory. The smell of spent hand-flare shells, and prayers at dawn, and the killing of turtles, and the biology of algae, for example. And many more. But I don't know if I can put them in order for you. My memories come in a jumble."

All in all, I enjoyed Pi's tale. Martel created a strong and fully developed character in Pi. When Pi is on the boat in the Pacific, the colors and smells and tastes bring the reader to ocean. Martel's story is deeper than a boy's comical account of a lifeboat survival. It is a piece of fiction that stretches the imagination while confronting one's ability to believe in God.

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