The Life of Pi

When I first mentioned that I was going to read The Life of Pi a friend of mine called it a book that people think is deep but really isn’t. He said it was the kind of thing that people liked to talk about holding glasses of wine with their pinkies in the air feeling very superior for having read it. I can’t say I entirely agree with him, but I do see what he means.


In his author’s note Yann Martel claims that the story is a true one and that it is a story which will make one believe in God. I must say, those highly pretentious words turned me off immediately. A book to make someone believe in God? I don’t think so. There are already many of those out there; they go by the name of scripture, scriptures rather, for many different religions. Somehow I doubt that a work of fiction (as the book is categorized by publishers) will convert the agnostic or atheistic mind if religious texts themselves cannot. The power of the story does not come from its ability to encourage religious conversion. It is powerful because it is a tale of the strength and spirit of man in the face of despair and almost certain death. It is also a fantastic comparison of the powers of imagination and reality and more importantly, in my view, discusses the compatibility of multiple religions.


Pi as a young man is quite spiritual. He finds that although he has grown up a Hindu his experiences with both Islam and Christianity draw him to those religions as well. He is a practicing Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Only his spiritual elders find fault with his deep inner sense of religion. Pi is representative of tolerance for religious differences. One is left with the impression that the only reason Pi has not converted to other religions as well is because he has yet to be exposed to them. However, he is highly intolerant of non-believers. He voices nothing but disdain for agnostics for choosing not to believe and claims that atheists will (or should) eventually come around to reason, most likely on their death beds.


Belief is the central theme of this book; belief in God, belief in one’s own abilities but also belief in the the story itself. The final chapters of this incredible (and I do mean that in the most literal sense of the word) story relates how Pi is questioned by two Japanese businessmen trying to find out why the ship he was on sunk. Predictably, the men do not believe his story of survival on a dinghy with a Tiger and insist he tell them the “truth.” The second story he tells is, by their standards, far more believable but no less heart breaking and awe inspiring. It is my opinion that Martel is attempting to draw a connection between belief and the truth, whatever it may be.


I have yet to discuss this book with anyone who has read it, so I can’t be sure that it’s audience is primarily composed of pretentious wine drinkers, as my friend suggested, but I can see how a story of this sort would attract superficial debate. However, what I got out of this read was the central compatibility of the fundamentals of religious beliefs when not corrupted by fanaticism and close mindedness as well as the power of nonreligious belief.


Is it a story to make me believe in God? Hell no. But it is a great story.


NEXT : I’m currently reading My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, but as I’m sure most people know, the new Harry Potter book comes out this weekend. All further reading will be put on hold until I get to know how this story, in which I have invested many hours over many years, will end.


~ by CableGirl on Thursday, July 19, 2007.

6 Responses to “The Life of Pi”

  1. I just thought it was a beautiful and entertaining story of how someone makes the best of a terrible situation. And how sometimes imagination is preferable to reality. Didn’t really feel superior for reading it though.

  2. I got to read this book, totally looks my type

  3. Becky – I’m with you on the not feeling superior. Nor did I feel the need to hold out my pinky while drinking wine. But, I can see how the book would attract a pretentious crowd.

    Rambler – It is a good read. Just to give you an idea: I finished the book in 3 days.

  4. For some reason I did not really get into this book. I had to force myself to finish it. And while I thought it was well written and had a powerful message, I did not really enjoy it. I can’t exactly say why. I know it has gotten rave revues. I see how it is full of great imagery. But it just was not something I really liked. And I have also been very turned off by all the pretension in the reviews and other people reading. I too have not really discussed it with anyone because, well, I didn’t have strong feelings about it, I just didn’t like it!

  5. I read this one while at Fourier’s house last summer. It was in a stack of books in her bedroom. I had “heard” about the book at least enough to recognize the title, but certainly hadn’t “heard” much about it, and none of the pretentiousness which may or may not surround it.
    For my part, having no real expectations of it, I loved the book. I thought it brilliant. It quickly shot up to the top of my favorite reads books and has remained there.
    Especially loved the concept of all religion being able to be embodied in one worshipper (why not?) and appreciated intensely the scene where Pi’s parents and the leaders of the various religions meet/confront one another.
    Now, having just minutes ago put down the last HP book and thinking about Pi’s journey and his “stories”, I am feeling a strong connection in a line in one of the final chapters regarding it all being in his head, but what is that to say it’s not real? (trying not to expose any spoiler in that book for anyone) But it echoes with what Pi proposes doesn’t it? And I for one have enjoyed pondering and re-visiting the concept of reality v. fiction that life of Pi sets out.
    No, pinky in the air I promise, when I say, I LOVED this book.

  6. Harry Potter rocks!!!!! I LOVE HARRY POTTER! Ron and Hermionie got married! awesomenmess! It is the BEST book ever!!!!!!!! Life of Pi? uh, whatever. it was okaykay 🙂

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