fiction, memoir, review

Life of Pi

Indonesian edition’s cover

Do you believe in God? Yann Martel’s Life of Pi has the answer to it. Or so I think. Without being dogmatic, it talks about having faith in God and what God can give you, indistinctly, in return. Life of Pi is not a boring, complicated drama about having to be stern and strict in practicing our religious teaching. Instead, it’s a demystified way of telling us about how we should be holding our faith firmly in the teeth of extreme, near-to-death difficulties. First published in 2001, Life of Pi has been Martel’s most phenomenal novel and most widely embraced story. And what the novel has tells us that it deserves it.

Set in India, the writer delivers a story of a boy to start with, named Piscine Molitor Patel after the best swimming pool in France which is always alive in his father’s friend’s memory. While having to deal with his friends making fun of his weird, unusual name, Pi finds himself indeliberately dragged into a vacillating state of faith, trying to discover the existence of God in every religion he knows, Hinduism, Islam, and Christian. Each passing day witnesses his growing determination to embrace the three religions all at the same time, which eventually takes form.

Later, the political conditions in India around 1970s forces Pi’s father to make up his mind and take all his family out of the motherland. Bound for Canada, they close their zoo and bring with them some of the animals meant to be sold in America. But without luck on their side, the ship they are on suddenly sinks for reasons unknown on July 2, 1977. No one survives but Pi, a hyena, a zebra, an orang-utan, and a Bengal tiger. It’s not only hunger and the sea he has to survive, but also those wild, man-eater animals whose hunger is so much worse and consuming than his. At this very point, Pi realizes that believing in God and resignation take a lot more sacrifices than he’s sometimes capable of making, yet earn him his whole life.

The reader may regard Pi as a confused, wavering, uncertain adherent of any religions, for he chooses to embrace three beliefs with three, or more, different Gods to worship. This portrayal of a character may get chided by some of you, but as I see it, Pi is just someone who tries to be open to any religion so long as it ushers him to the grace of God. For him, faith is faith, and you cannot limit it with any kinds of teaching. It is God he is seeking for, not acceptance into any particular group. He is just a boy with thousands of questions in his mind, no doubt about it, but he is certain about what he holds and believes, that God can take any form in this universe.

Despite its sequence of adventurous events, Life of Pi is not exactly an adventure story. It’s an exciting experience of a person who has to hold on his faith steadfastly to undergo it. Its plot has successfully drowned me into its thrilling narrative surrounded by the sea. The characterization is just believable and natural yet controversial, without demanding approval from the reader. Its hilarious tone makes it enjoyable to follow till the last page, although the character is described going through such a hardship. Nevertheless, the story itself, though enchanting and inspirational, as well as the character’s own confession leave some questions unanswered. Is it really his personal experience, or merely a fictional tale he had woven on his own even before the writer came to him? If it is real, is it really how the story goes? Can you really escape a starving tiger for 227 days without being any the worse for wear? Sadly, those intriguing questions are only for us to wonder on end.

Be that as it may, I love this book. Life of Pi is not only entertaining and mind-opening, it’s stating an opinion about having faith in God without being dogmatic and strict, without any intention of “teaching” and forcing the reader to follow any belief. It’s magnetic and everything I want (and need) in a novel. Fictional or not, I don’t really care. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

Rating: 4/5