Life of Pi: adventure, survival, faith

Life of Pi
Yann Martel
2002 Harcourt Press
ISBN: 0151008116

Yann Martel, the child of diplomats, grew up in Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Alaska and Canada and as an adult has spent time in Iran, Turkey and India. After studying Philosophy at Trent University, he worked at various odd jobs until he began making a living as a writer at the age of 27. Martel is the prize-winning author of Facts Behind: Helsinki, a collection of short stories, & of Self, a novel. He lives in Montreal.

When I was in secondary school, my English teacher had me read this wonderful book called Lord of the Flies. (I know, who didn't!) William Golding's classic tale about a group of English schoolboys who are plane-wrecked on a deserted island left a lasting impression.

I predict another novel, Life of Pi by Yann Martel will be studied in a similar way by future generations.

Martel's tale involves a gripping story with odd similarities to Golding's. This time, a young boy is shipwrecked - the sole survivor of the sinking of a cargo ship - and must survive on a small lifeboat drifting in the middle of the desert-like Pacific Ocean. It also explores the boundary between human reason and animal instinct, all on the brutal playing field of the Pacific Ocean. And Golding won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Martel The Man Booker Prize.

Coincidence? Who knows? But perhaps Martel's prose provides clues. At one point in his main character's journey, Martel has Pi recount, "My greatest wish – other than salvation – was to have a book. A long book with a never-ending story. One that I could read again and again, with new eyes and fresh understanding each time." Pg 230

God, I know what that means.

At the beginning of Life of Pi, in the Author's notes, Martel states this is "a story to make you believe in God." A bold claim that smacks of self-importance, an author setting up high expectations in his audience, or perhaps a less-than-subtle subliminal wish?

I'd say all of the above.

Yes, there are parts of this book that are so moving, so exhilarating, so extraordinary that the reader is left to catch their breath as they read on.

And Life of Pi will probably be studied by millions of future school children.

But maybe readers are like me – they just want to read a good story. We don't want to analyze every possible scenario. ie. Does the Tiger really exist? Is Pi's journey just carefully constructed representations of Sigmund Freud's Id, Ego and Superego?

You get my drift.

Life of Pi didn't "make" me believe in God. I don't want to read it again and again. But I concede Martel cooked up one hell of a good story!

Life of Pi has been made into a 3D movie directed by Ang Lee starring Suraj Sharma as Pi, with Irrfan Khan and Tobey Maguire. Life of Pi will be in theaters on Nov. 21.

Donald D'Haene is Online Theatre Editor of The Beat Magazine.

Talbot Centre