"I know what you want. You want a story that won't surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won't make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality." - Pi Patel
This novel was easily one of the most unique books I have ever read and far from "dry, yeastless factuality". While reading it, I often wondered if it was not based off of a true story in some way simply because the story seemed too unbelievable to NOT be true! This book would appeal to a variety of literature-minded tastes as it covers topics that range from philosophy, religion, travel, and biology to suspense, horror, and even comedy.
On the surface, the story is about an Indian boy that survives on a lifeboat with a lone Bengal tiger after his ship sinks, taking the remains of a zoo and his entire family with it. Woven into the plot are threads of Pi Patel's passion for religion as a whole. He seeks to survive - both mind and body - 227 days at sea, using both the knowledge of three world religions and the experience of growing up in a zoo.
What makes this book rise above the general expectations of the fiction genre is that the main character's frequent monologues on his present circumstances inadvertedly cause the reader to evaluate his or her own life in light of Pi's words. Take for instance Pi's explanation of the battle between good and evil:
"These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart." (Ch. 25)
Page after page, chapter after chapter, Pi's personal philosophy is laid out as his life hangs in the balance. At one of his lowest points he discusses the power of fear:
"I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. ... The matter is difficult to put into words. For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it." (Ch. 56)
In the midst of reading this highly imaginative text, I realized that the musings of this castaway were reflections of what any person standing on dry land could be feeling at any given moment:
"When you look up, you sometimes wonder if at the centre of the solar system, if in the middle of the Sea of Tranquillity, there isn't another one like you also looking up, also trapped by geometry, also struggling with fear, rage, madness, hopelessness, apathy." (Ch. 78)
My favorite part of the book was when in the midst of a storm, Pi was nearly struck by lightning. The description of this encounter in chapter 85 put me in nearly as much awe as it did Pi Patel and reminded me of how the Holy Bible often described the voice of God as the voice of a great thunder, which completely fit in with the overarching theme of religion as a framework for life.
When at the end of the book, Pi Patel offers an alternate, more-believable version of his survival at sea, I realized that this novel could be read as an allegory to symbolize life and its survival. This is what truly allows The Life of Pi to make the leap from contemporary fiction to enduring classic.
*On a side note, if you would like further detail into how Yann Martel wrote this engrossing novel, here is a link to an essay on the subject:
How I Wrote Life of Pi by Yann Martel .
Read for: 101 Fantasy Reading Challenge