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Customer Review

203 of 228 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Unbelievable Truth, June 29, 2005
This review is from: Life of Pi (Paperback)
That Pi is the nickname of the main character and narrator of this tale is only the first little tidbit to digest in this delicious smorgasbord of a novel. Pi the number, you see, goes on to infinity, so Pi the person, it can be reasonably assumed, does the same. But there's so much more than this, it's almost impossible to get your mind around it.

As everybody already knows, the plot has to do with Pi, a sixteen-year old Indian boy who practices three religions, and who gets shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean on the way to Canada with his emigrant family. He is the sole human survivor, but unfortunately--or fortunately as it turns out--not the sole survivor. On the lifeboat with him are a 450 pound tiger and several other animals, and within a day or so, a 450 pound tiger. The bulk of the novel has to do with the story of his survival, not only from the catastrophic wreck, but from the almost surreal horror of being confined in a ridiculously small space with one of the most dangerous animals on the earth.

For the rich thematic nature of this novel come into bloom, this aspect of the story must be entirely believable, and I'm here to tell you, it is. This is no Tom Robbins nonsense in which all living things get along simply because they are too cool for reality, this is nail-bitingly realistic, and nothing is left out. In fact, if you're in this for the pure adventure of it, you can't do much better.

Young Pi has a lot of things to think about. First, there is the fact that his family has suddenly disappeared forever. Then, there is the food and water problem. Finally, there is, well, the tiger problem. Should he try to kill it? How? With a knife, a rope, a flare gun? What if he only wounds it? Can he make it go away? Can he somehow live with it? He manages, in a clever way, but just barely. His relationship with the tiger can be described as no better than uneasy even on the best days.

His survival at sea, from the food and water he must meticulously procure, to the sharks he must avoid, to the storms he must suffer through, to the eruption of boils on his body, and many, many other tribulations, are carefully and realistically portrayed. As are his emotions, which range from terror, loneliness, sadness, despair . . . and hope. The experience he relates is nothing less than fascinating, and there are a multitude of surprising--and entirely credible--revelations. He endures this for 272 days before he finally washes up in Mexico.

But here is where it really gets interesting. See, nobody believes the business about the tiger, which unceremoniously took off the moment it and Pi hit the beach. Oh, they believe he's a sixteen-year old Indian boy who somehow manages to be standing on the coast of Mexico after being shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean somewhere between Manila and Midway--they have to believe that, he's standing there--but that there is a 450 pound tiger at loose and undetected in the jungles of Mexico? No way! Can't be!

So Pi tells them another story. One that is more believable. Far more believable, in that it involves men only, and even better, men acting brutally towards one another. But neither story can be proved, one way or the other.

What we have, therefore, is a treatise on the nature of truth, and on a far deeper level, the nature of faith. Don't go back and look for clues in order to figure out which of Pi's stories are true: you won't be able to. The point is this: it is a matter of choice. One can choose to believe either one. Just as one can choose to have faith. Or choose not to.

Pretty heavy-duty, no doubt about it, but there is a whole lot of other great stuff, too, and you'll find yourself twirling the possibilities around in your brain for days. By its end you realize that just about everything in the novel is symbolic of something, seemingly, although there are not always clear answers. The tiger, for example, might be God, but I'm not absolutely sure about that. Arguably, he saved Pi, in that he kept his mind occupied and off the horrible contemplation of his fate. Also, there is the nature of it, which is beautiful, undeniable, and under the circumstances, all-powerful. Of course, it must also be fed, perhaps, or sacrificed to. If not, both man and beast will die.

The boat, I think, orange and white, represents Hinduism. Pi could not have survived the elements without the boat, but over time it becomes weather-beaten, and he knows he can't live on it forever. The island, green, represents Islam. Pi finds great succor on the island and is brought back to life by it, but discovers that unless he conforms to its laws strictly, it will kill him. Christianity, I think, is the blue ocean, unfathomably deep, mysterious, and teeming with life, but loaded with deadly, dangerous creatures. His survival depended on all three, a point which is reinforced by Pi's life pre- and post-disaster, in that he worshipped God as God is manifested in all three religions.

You could philosophize about this type of thing for days, I suppose, and have a lot of fun doing so, but the main thing to remember is that above all else, it's a great yarn, told by a warm, engaging, and clever narrator. That's the main thing. But in all respects, this is first class literature.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 21, 2013 7:34:14 PM PDT
Loved the book, and LOVED your analysis.
Fine job.

Posted on Jul 24, 2013 8:22:29 AM PDT
Moonstone7 says:
I agree with your review. I just finished this wondrous, marvelously written novel that will indeed be twirling around my brain for a long time!
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