When I was in Ho Chi Minh last month, we walked around the backpackers' area where I found a photocopy of the novel. Yes, photocopied indeed; lots of them abound in Vietnam. Together with a Lonely Planet India and The Catfish and the Mandala, I grabbed a copy of Life of Pi.
The plot: a teenage boy, Pi, grows up in the family-managed zoo in India. He discovers religion, and proceeds to practice Hinduism, Catholicism, and Islam – all three at the same time.
Between zoos and religion, the character has this to say: “I know zoos are no longer in people’s good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both”.
One day the family moves to Canada, animals and all. The ship sinks, leaving him on a lifeboat with a hyena, orang-utan, and a tiger in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Winning the 2002 Man Booker Prize, the novel takes the reader through a journey of religious discovery and the boy’s unfailing will to live despite seemingly insurmountable odds. The second half of the book, in which we follow Pi’s intense battle for survival, was surprisingly amusing to me.
Alas, the book ends with a shocking revelation, which explores the philosophy of how we conceive reality and truth, and, indeed ultimately, faith.
The philosophical thesis of the book is best summed up in its last pages, when Pi, after surviving the ordeal and was telling his story to his interrogators, who received his account with disbelief, said that: “The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”.Honestly, I have long been robbed of any imagination to explore the book further, especially its philosophical side, to which I have nothing much to say. People who are into philosophy and religion would probably find the book worth digging into.
For some light reading, however, it is pretty entertaining, particularly Pi’s observations about animals and his means of survival in the raft and life boat. I know there’s more to the book than that, but then I am less profound than what it attempts to present.Savages (2007), which I saw at a friend’s house last week. It’s a story of a pair of siblings dealing with their bastard of a father. It is hilarious, clever, and poignant. Starring the impeccable Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman.