Friday, October 30, 2009

Life of Pi

Last year, my mom and I had the following conversation:

MOM: I read a good book - Life of Pi, and I think that I get it. The boy was the tiger, and the sailor was the zebra, and the cook was the hyena...
ME: So what was the religious theme of the book?
MOM: What?
ME: I thought there was some religious theme to it.
MOM: I don't know. I guess I will have to re-read it.

I've been hearing about Life of Pi for a long time. And I have been avoiding it. First of all, I don't like to read popular books. I don't want people to think that I'm someone who jumps on a bandwagon; someone who reads Faulkner because Oprah told me to. I ADORE Faulkner (despite our initially contentious relationship), but I would have purposely NOT read him during the time that he was Oprah's book club pick. Unless, of course, I could wear a shirt that said, "I LOVED FAULKNER BEFORE OPRAH." Books with buzz tend to scare me away.

I have been avoiding Life of Pi for the other reason as well: it's religious theme. It's a book that is supposed to make you believe in god. Oh boy, one of those books. No thank you.

But then, there are people whose opinion of books I take seriously, mostly because we have such similar tastes. So, I have finally given in and read it.

First of all, the key to this book is in the author's introduction. You have to read that first, or like my mom, you will miss the point. Martel gives us two stories: one is fantastical - unbelievable. A boy is on a lifeboat with a tiger for almost a year and the tiger doesn't eat him? The second story is the believable, and probably true one. But which one is the better story? Which one makes life more interesting? Obviously the fantastical one. The religious theme, of course is that we can choose to believe the religious stories - that god created us special, and a baby was born to a virgin in a stable, and angels and shepherds, and wise men, and all the other religious stories, or we can believe the "real" story. You can take your pick. God is the better story.

Now in the previous paragraph, I only listed the Christian story. But Life of Pi is not exclusively a Christian story. Pi is also a Hindu and a Muslim. So it doesn't matter if your story is Kali and Shiva and the turtle - or is it an elephant? - holding up the world, or whatever stories it is that Muslims believe (I admit my inexcusable ignorance of what is in the Koran), or if you believe in the baby in a manger. Martel is just saying that the better story is the fantastical one...the one that it's hard to believe but is more beautiful...or more exciting, or something.

I'm not really sure about that though. They are good stories, some of them at least. But isn't the story of the natural world just as interesting, just as worthy of awe? Go on youtube and listen to some of Neal DeGrasse Tyson's talks on the universe and you'll see what I mean.

All in all, Life of Pi wasn't bad. It's not the greatest thing I ever read. But for being popular, it was a pretty decent read.

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