Friday, June 4, 2010

Book Recommendation: Life of Pi

The first time I heard of Life of Pi I thought it had something to do with math like the book Flatland.  I was interested in reading it but never had the opportunity.  Then one day I noticed it in the bookstore and discovered that it was NOT in fact a math story but a survival story.  Feeling that I had read all the miraculous survival stories I cared to read, I lost interest.

Then this weekend while visiting my family I found it on my brother's bookshelf, and in a few spare moments while waiting to leave for church I started reading it.  I was immediately impressed with Yann Martel's writing.  The words stay out of the way just enough to allow me to focus on the content of what they're saying, but the language is also so skillfully weaved together that what I do notice is lovely.

But of course, what really drew me in was the story.  Pi Patel is intelligent, thoughtful and in love with the idea of faith.  His story walks the fine line between being completely unexpected and outside the realm of my own experience, and being entirely recognizable in its universality.  I learned so much—about the ocean, about animals, about the fight for life—and at the same time I went on an emotional journey that allowed me to connect deeply with circumstances I will hopefully never see myself.  Ultimately that is what a good story should do.

In the end the nagging question is “could I do what he did?”  Could you survive out in the ocean for 200+ days in a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger?  I seriously doubt that many could.  But though that is the most obvious question, it isn't the only one.  Could you also keep your sanity?  Could you fight as hard as he did to stay alive, even without the tiger?  Could you (if you have faith) keep your faith, even see the timely occurrences that help keep you alive as miraculous gifts?

Life of Pi is a soul-searching kind of book.  But I don't think it would be nearly as effective without the skilled description throughout.  Granted some of that description makes sections rather graphic.  (If you are squeamish about animals killing one another painfully, well I won't say not to read the book because you still should, but do be forewarned.)  On the other hand the description truly helped me to connect with Pi.  I remember particularly stirring moments when Pi is afraid or jubilant; the description of both the mental and physical manifestations of those emotions had me riveted.

This is a book worth reading if you ever have the chance.  You'll be glad you took the journey.

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