Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Review of Life of Pi by Yann Martel

     I have not seen the movie, though I am told the film is beautiful and inspiring. The book was entirely puzzling to me. With the conceit of a reporter interviewing the lone survivor of a shipwreck, the story purports to make us the readers believe in God. I admit that I am obtuse about a lot of things; and I have no idea how the story was supposed to do that. Maybe one of you can tell me, but don't despair if I still don't get it.
     I did love the descriptions of the zoo and the behavior of multiple animals. Since I agree that people are being foolish when they natter on how animals should be free in the wild, I found congenial the descriptions of how much better off animals are in good zoos and what wild lives are like.  Do people really not know that living with nature is living with fleas and mosquitoes and ticks and parasites and leeches and cold and scarce food?
     The protagonist's incidents of his attempts to love God by using every religion he can are amusing, and his Hindu perception of my Lord Jesus Christ are fascinating. I wondered if the name of Pi, an eternal number, reflected on his belief of eternal life.
     The use of operant conditioning by Pi to keep the tiger from eating him was well done. (My husband's first degree was in Psychology in a school that focused on operant conditioning.)
     I was following the story with great interest until it got bizarre near the end with a blind fellow floater Frenchman who wants to eat him and then the floating island, um, okay, with the human-eating tree, Not Okay. So....hallucinations there toward the end. He comes ashore in Mexico and is hospitalized, where he is visited by some Japanese insurance representatives. They tell him that they don't believe his story, so then he tells them an ugly, even more harrowing story.
     Near as I can tell, the moral of the novel is that it is better to believe the beautiful story that may be false than the ugly story that is plain fact.  Um......That would seem to undermine belief in God. Or maybe Yann Martel is saying that belief is good (even if in something false) because it makes the world look better and you feel better. If so, that is an argument that does not impress me.
     I know that conclusion is superficially like the argument by the Marshwiggle in The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. If I were more erudite and capable with philosophical language, I could tell you what the differences are. Perhaps one of you could grant language to my inchoate thoughts.
     I would recommend the book only for adults without ADD.


  1. My opinion:
    the issue is materialism vs spirituality.

    Pi's second story, to the insurance executives, is a true story which is strictly materialistic, and which ignores spirituality.

    Pi's first story is also a true story: a true story which honors the spiritual dimension of existence.

    Pi's adventure is said to "make you believe in God". At the end, Pi asks the journalist which story he prefers. The journalist says: "The one with the lion." Pi smiles: maybe without knowing it, the journalist has said that he prefers an existence which includes a spiritual dimension (as opposed to a strictly materialistic existence: i.e. an existence which recognizes no spiritual dimension).

    Some examples of how the first story was a true story about spirituality:

    -- the lion represented Pi's survival instinct. The lion killed the cook; ate meat; fiercely fought for survival. Much of this was abhorrent to Pi's sensibilities about himself. Yet, Pi did this to survive.

    -- Pi represented himself, and also conscience. Pi's conscience tamed the lion; learned to co-exist, in harmony, with Pi's survival instinct. Learned to work together, for ultimate good.

    -- the raft represented faith. The physical structure of the raft represented an abstract artistic amalgamation of symbols for Christianity (the cross), Islam (the crescent) and Hinduism. In crisis: Pi's faith sustained. He could always depend on his raft, i.e. on his faith. His faith/raft only let him down when he failed to account for the laws of physics, and the raft dumped his food stock into the ocean. Even faith must be in harmony with the laws of physics.

    I will only add that there are signs, in the story, that the animal story is not a materialistic story, but rather is a true story about the spiritual aspect of existence. Some of those signs would include the fact that captive animals escaped the sinking ship, and behavior of the animals - on the water and during the storm - which could not happen in reality. These were early signals that the animal story was not a literal, materialistic story.

  2. gcotharn:....really?.......must think this over.