Review : Life of Pi

by Nikhil Kautilya on October 31, 2012

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Author: Yann Martel
Publisher: Random House Publishers India
Year: 2003
ISBN: 9781841953922
Rating: ★★★½☆
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If you would read Life of Pi in front of a mirror, you will come to know how great an actor you are. An eclectic list of emotions that come and go as Yann Martel wishes. And, that is how Pi did live.

Twice failed, then to weave a wild imagination from a proven-failed inspiration (a novel by Moacy Scliar, a Brazilian author), it takes belligerent imagination and a Spanish Yann Martel to put together a novel work called Life of Pi, that is set in the world far from his own and as a matter of fact, most of us.

The story is about an Indian boy, Pi, brought up in a family of zoo-keepers and his survival as a castaway using the bread he got, during his childhood, from the zoo and God. Pi is presented as a religious fanatic, embracing three religions together. It is not a vulgar chattering of what each religion offers, but a comforting vista of the beautiful figments from each religion stitched together. It does more than filling a few pages, creating timeless imageries, inducing humour and a bit empathy for the rational Pi. It forms a part of the ration necessary for his survival after the shipwreck, though this might not be very apparent. Nevertheless, the narrator’s (and probably the author’s, too) pure love and allegiance to one God does make the story a reality.

The story is narrated by Pi Patel, the lone human survivor of a cargo ship that sank in the Pacific Ocean. The story kicks off with, not so surprisingly, Pi telling how he got his unique name, Piscine Molitor Patel, and how necessary it was for him to become Pi Patel, which nonetheless is not very conventional a name either. Some fantastic humour spread very generously there.

Then he moves on to narrate the telling impressions left on him by the zoo and its animals that his father owned, which formed the other stock that helps him survive in his credibly incredible story. Tinge of wisdom, information and again, the old, friendly humour, all find their honest shares in this part.

Soon, the whole family, including a few animals from their zoo as well (as selling it to American zoos fetched them more money), decides to move to Canada as the then-current political scenario in India was deteriorating because of Emergency imposed on the nation.

Then the ship carrying them sinks and the story we all had been waiting for surfaces. This forms the majority of the exact hundred chapters that the book snugly fits into. An astonishing motley of herbivorous and carnivorous animals is put in an eight by twenty-six feet lifeboat, and then, a Survival of the fittest program by Mr. Darwin is ran and we, then, have one by one elimination of the animals. Only then we realize that why Mr. Darwin burped Survival of the fittest and not, say, Survival of the strongest or the toughest.

All the fear, inhibitions and reservations are obliterated by Pi as he refuses to die -for mind can kill what it breeds all its life. He goes on to live with the only other remaining living creature aboard the lifeboat, a Royal Bengal tiger and how he does it, day in and day out, for 227 days on a lifeboat is magical, ethereal, dramatic and original. You don't invite your death too often. But Pi does it. And not just survives, he lives with it. And more, he misses it when they depart. A little murky description of the lifeboat doesn't help initially but one finds its way through the uneasiness. These times breed some precious moments of anxiety, thrill, agony, joy and hope. And life. A life that just doesn't stop living.

Martel uses simple sentences effectively. There are subtle meanings lying beneath them, so rush through and you’ll miss the riches. Martel sometimes engulfs you in disturbing, gloomy passage but then a blade of humour emerges taking you far from dismalness. Just as there is death sailing around Pi, there is humour below and creativity around that keeps life afloat in the story. You might find the character sketches of animals more lasting than that of Pi’s family members, which is, indeed, required of the story! There is charm and innocence when the child speaks and then there is brutality flashing when the hunger slaps hard in the guts. And not calling it completely flawless, sometimes, it looks as if Martel knew that the reader would doubt the truth of something and he responds in a peculiar way of clearing the doubt rather than making it a part of the narration.

What makes Life of Pi tick with a reader is the omnipresent undercurrent of humour, inventive allegory, excellent metaphors and similes yielding outstanding imageries, relentless thrill, all put together, giving us a brilliant panorama dashed with some undying quotes.

It is not just a survivor’s story! It is beyond that. It is story-telling put to good use. It is not a book that you will adore for your lifetime. But on some starry night, it will pop from your bookshelf, ask you to ponder over the eternal questions, and then will quietly retreat. In the sea, this fiction answers what at night the stars inquire. It can’t answer it all itself, but you are on your way to being less clueless. And Martel, certainly, denied someone a dry, yeastless factuality giving a better story, anyway.

Few quotes:

'It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards'. (p. 20)

'And so, in that Greek letter that looks like a shack with a corrugated tin roof, in that elusive, irrational number with which scientists try to understand the universe, I found refuge'. (p. 24)

'It was my first clue that atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith. Like me, they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them- and then they leap'. (p. 28)

'Life will defend itself no matter how small it is'. (p. 38)

'“At the rate you’re going, if you go to temple on Thursday, mosque on Friday, synagogue on Saturday and church on Sunday, you only need to convert to three more religions to be on holiday for the rest of your life.”' (p. 70)

'“I don’t see why I can’t be all three. Mamaji has two passports. He’s Indian and French. Why can’t I be a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim?”' (p. 73)

'When I prayed, the short, unknotted tassels were inches from the tip of my forehead at one end of the carpet and inches from the tip of my toes at the other, a cozy size to make you feel at home anywhere upon this vast earth'. (p. 76)

'It’s hard on a son to see his father sick with worry'. (p. 78)

'My heart began to beat like a merry drum and blood started flowing through my veins like cars from a wedding party honking their way through town'. (p. 143)

'I felt I was beating a rainbow to death'. (p. 185)

Written by Nikhil Kautilya

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