Monday, September 20, 2004

LIfe of Pi: A Review

What would happen if you put a sixteen-year old Indian boy and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker on a lifeboat adrift across the Pacific for 227 days? I'm sure Butch Dalisay, the Phlippines's best living short story writer, would approve. Stephen King might not even forgive himself for not thinking about that silly premise himself. Stephen King wrote, "the story is in the situation." And Yann Martel's situation in "Life of Pi" would have flopped were it not for his masterful rendering of the piece. Thus, what we have in "Life of Pi" is not just a premise for a story but a metaphor of the human condition: man and beast lost in the vast sea of being and nothingness, and it would be up to man to tame the beast and draw from it the spiritual strength to move on and find God. Great story. I would rate it one notch higher than Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea" chiefly because Hemingway has no God and Yann Martel can match word for word Hemingway's style.

The main character Pi (as in 3.14 the irrational number) short for Piscine (French for swimming pool) spends his adolescence studying zoology and three unique religions. He lives with a family of zookeepers who soon decides to emigrate to Canada on a Japanese freighter, named Tsimtsum. But halfway through their voyage the ship sinks. The disaster strands Pi in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Soon, Richard Parker has disposed of everyone except Pi and what follows is the story of the castway with an oversized perpetually hungry feline companion. It is in this threshhold between life and death that "Life of Pi" manages to shake its reader, grab him, and take him to metaphysical heights.

You have to credit Yann Martel for managing to keep it intact for 319 pages. And as he moves it from page one to page 319, he transgresses subjects ranging from sloths, zookeeping, Hinduism, Christianity, marine life and even constipation in the high seas. Scene after scene Yann Martel's prose builds up with such realism that at the end of book, I wondered, is this true? Well, all good art is true. And this book, "Life of Pi" is definitely good art -- a great diversion from the lawyer's pre-occupation with the here and now.

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