Review: Life of Pi
This is presented as a story to make one believe in god (suma.)* I have to say that I never saw it that way. Pi’s attraction to Hinduism, Christianity and Islam seem so easy but only because he is credulous and male. Coming from a family that owned a zoo (and therefore had money), and led secular-based lives, Pi was presented with opportunities without restrictions that might face a girl in his same circumstances. He just learned different ways to pray to something that does not exist to make him feel special.
That said, it is a compelling story – horrific and violent – as Pi tries to survive on a lifeboat with Richard Parker an adult male tiger. His family was sailing to Canada with some of their animals, but the ship sank just a few days out of port. The first days on the lifeboat where he’s with a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan and a hyena were the most horrible and I found myself hoping for them to just get on with killing each other so the tension and horror would end.
The “interview” format of the tale, and knowing the entire time that Pi survived made his hardships easier to read, but I continually failed to see how the divine came into it – how the story was supposed to inspire any kind of belief in anything but Pi’s resourcefulness.
The ending, where he tells two different stories to Japanese agents of the shipping line – the tiger one, and another where he murders and eats the others, which they find more plausible. This is apparently where the crux of the suma lies. The agents believe the horrific story of murder and cannibalism, but when asked which story they preferred, they chose the story with the tiger. Pi’s response? “So it is with god.” The story with god is preferable to the story without. That’s it.
I chose the story of the tiger because it was the story presented in the novel. The story was compelling, especially because Richard Parker was the real savior in the novel. He brought order after the wrenching horror of the deaths of the other animals, and his presence (and resulting fear of predation) forced Pi to remain strong and resourceful and allowed him to survive 227 days in the lifeboat.
A lot of people I respect found a real spiritual message in the book. I did not.
*I know that suma actually means “all encompassing argument for the existence of god,” but that seems to be how the book presents itself.