Revisiting old friends, Part 2: Life of Pi

Last Wednesday I talked about returning to Mad Men, but also revisited Life of Pi, the Man Booker Prize winner by Yann Martel. (SPOILERS ahead.) After re-reading it I have been bugging all my friends to read it – no one has and I desperately want to discuss it with someone. I forgot how much I loved this book. It’s so well written and Pi is an engaging narrator: funny but sweet, allowing the reader to experience his struggle, usually through fascination with the way he tackles his situation rather than pity.

However, what I enjoy the most is not where Pi is on the boat with Richard Parker, though I do enjoy that section, and it is the most memorable part of the book. No, what I enjoy is actually when Pi finds, contemplates and discusses his different religious beliefs. I love how the book discusses religion in such an unashamed way, but without being judgmental, or trying to force a religion forward onto the reader. Pi doesn’t even allow anyone to force a set religion onto himself – he picks three religions and decides they are all equal, choosing to worship all three rather than being forced to pick one. The purity with which Pi believes in his three faiths is rare for many mediums, not just novels: that someone is portrayed as having unquestioning faith without it feeling forced or pushy is unusual. I am not hugely religious myself, but Pi’s total devotion forces me to admire him. That he doesn’t lose faith even after his family dies and he is stranded at sea with a Bengal tiger and no hope of rescue is beautiful, and that it is softly reinforced – his schedule when in the boat has set times for praying, without explanation, just that it must happen – is appreciated by this reader. It is soft touch. His faith is too strong to be removed by something so small as the loss of everything he knows and loves, facing an impossible situation.

It is a very well written book, and I will admit that I thought it was unfilmable (though Ang Lee did a spectacular job – the cinematography is stunning, and that tiger looked real!). I would have no trouble recommending the adaptation, but for me the book still surpasses the film. The film doesn’t quite capture the sweetness of the book, the humour, nor the beauty of Pi’s faith.

Have you read Life of Pi, or seen the film? What do you think?

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