Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Review : Life of Pi

Title : Life of Pi
Author : Yann Martel
Publisher : Canongate/Random House
ISBN : 978-1-84195-392-2

There are some stories, I consider fortunate enough to enjoy the spotlight of the center stage more than once in their life times. Life of Pi happens to be one of them. Published in 2001 after being rejected by at least five publishing houses in London, Life of Pi won Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the following year. Later it got translated to a couple of other languages too. The story has managed to create hysteria once again after a decade when it has been adapted into a movie by an ace director - Ang Lee.

Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel written by Yann Martel. The protagonist of the story is Piscine Molitor 'Pi' Patel, an Indian boy hailing from Pondicherry, who happens to get his unusual name courtesy a famous swimming pool in Paris. His not so regular name makes him subject of a lot of ridicule, teasing and some funny incidents though it brings a lot of distress for the owner of the name himself.

Majoring in religious studies and zoology, Pi's quest to learn more about the divine power leads him to be a Muslim-Christian-Hindu, a rare combination indeed. The family (his parents, elder brother Ravi and he)decides to make the alien lands of Canada their home when his father, a zoo owner decides to call it quits in India. But that was not destined to be and the cargo ship tragically sinks in the rough waters of ocean leaving just a few survivors on the solitary lifeboat - newly orphaned sixteen year old Pi, a hyena, a monkey, a crippled zebra and a royal Bengal tiger who accidentally got the name Richard Parker. And hence the stage is set for a perfectly adventurous, nerve wrecking tale of fiction.

Life of Pi turns out to be a coming of age story of a boy who is caught in a strangely precarious situation where it is unimaginable to be sharing a lifeboat with a tiger while it is equally important for him to keep the tiger alive.  "A part of me was glad about Richard Parker. A part of me did not want Richard Parker to die at all, because if he died I would be left alone with despair, a foe even more formidable than a tiger. If I still had the will to live, it was thanks to Richard Parker. He pushed me to go on living. I hated him for it, yet at the same time I was grateful. "

His experiences, understanding, grit, patience, suffering and much more equip him to churn the same into fine pearls of wisdom. Situations which demand all possible and many times impossible faculties of an individual make the highlight of the book and it is wonderful to read how the survival instincts kick in at the right time. 'When your life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish hunger for survival'.

After struggling with many menacing foes, learning a lot more than regular routine offers, graduating from being a simple vegetarian to eating anything for survival, realizing the desperation that threat to survival poses, confronting the power of fear from close quarters, witnessing the magical presence of God on many occasions, riding the waves of hope and despair continuously, striking a symbiotic relationship with a creature with whom it is most unlikely, Pi, in the company of Richard Parker reaches the shores of Mexico after 227 days. 

The commendable part of Martels's writing is the life like portrayal of Pi, every mood, every feeling and every scene. Pi's questioning and analyzing mind goads the readers to introspect on many issues including the one that stays in the thinking minds always - presence of God. Overall an extremely well written, engaging account of adventurous life of Pi indeed. The story is power packed with action, philosophy, spirituality and introspection - all in one.

Some excerpts from the book worth copying here:

"Fear is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for our weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in the mind always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed foot soldier. Doubt does away with a little trouble. You become anxious. Reason comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapon technology. But to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread. "

"Ataman seeks to realize Brahman, to be united with the Absolute, and it travels in this life on a pilgrimage where it is born and dies, and is born again, and again and again, until it manages to shed the sheaths that imprison it here below."

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