Monday, November 13, 2006

Book Review:

Life of Pi
Yann Martel

I finished reading Life of Pi this weekend. For several days I have struggled with whether I should post a review on my blog. In good conscience, this is not a book I can freely recommend to Christian readers. At the same time, it is an absolutely brilliant work of fiction and fully deserving of the critical acclaim it has received.

Life of Pi chronicles the journey of a young castaway, Picine Molitor Patel. Pi is marooned in the middle of the Pacific --- stranded on a lifeboat in the company of a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra and a Bengal tiger. Against all odds, Pi survives his ordeal. Though the premise of the book seems completely unbelievable, the story is amazing because of its plausibility. Through intelligent narrative and attentive description Yann Martel skillfully weaves the details of the plot (but not necessarily in sequence).

Life of Pi is constructed of many layers. It is a book that begs to be discussed. This novel is perfect fodder for a book club or university class. I was grateful that Ben finished reading Pi a few days before I did. The book provided fuel for several engaging conversations (and debates) this weekend.

Unfortunately, Yann Martel's masterful story is tainted by several truly gruesome scenes. The first of these disturbing sections occurs about a third of the way into the story, shortly after Pi becomes shipwrecked. I had greatly enjoyed the novel up to this point, but I very nearly put the book away unfinished.
I am not accustomed to exposing myself to such terrible imagery and it was a shock to my system. The most horrific scene comes at the end of the novel.

Savagery is one of the central threads of Pi. Can Pi Patel survive and yet resist becoming a savage? Does Pi retain his humanity? Is he any less an animal than Richard Parker? As much a I hate to admit, Life of Pi would not be as believable without its accounts of extreme depravity. Pi must journey to the outer limits of savagery in order to test his own humanity.

Life of Pi also explores themes of religion and a belief in God. Pi Patel longs for relationship with God, so much so that he resorts to worshiping multiple gods. Christ, Allah, Vishnu ... all are worthy of respect and adoration according to Pi. He hungers for redemption and divine connection. Where my Christian beliefs cause me to fill my spiritual hunger with faith in Christ, Pi turns to multiple religions and expressions of faith. Because he survives his horrific ordeal, it appears that Pi had exceptional divine protection. He believed in many gods and therefore kept all his bases covered. I do not agree with this presumption.

I am glad I read Life of Pi. I do believe that, as a Christian, I should not be afraid to engage popular culture. Pi is a brilliant piece of Canadian fiction, without question. When I choose to read such a book, I pray for discernment and the mind of Christ, guarding my heart and emotions. Life of Pi is not what I would consider "entertainment reading". It is not the type of novel I feel safe escaping into. However, it is an engaging story and worthy of careful thought and discussion.

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