Monday, September 03, 2007

Making Waves
"Life of Pi"
by Yann Martel

Supposedly, this book will make you believe in God. At least, that's what the inside cover of the library edition claims, that "it may, as one character claims: make you believe in God."

What a letdown! I was expecting some major breakthrough, some tour de force, I was expecting to open the book and gold rays to come bursting out that would melt my face off like some sort of modern covenant. Didn't happen.

Life of Pi is, the inside cover also claims: about a boy, a tiger, and the Pacific Ocean. It is a fascinating story that won a prestigious award, but it didn't change my life. Maybe my expectations were too high, perhaps I wanted something more, some insight, some meaning I couldn't or haven't yet gleaned from life as I know it. Didn't happen.

Which made me wonder, am I not impressionable anymore? Am I past that phase? Is it a phase? Can I not be moved like I once was? I really can't bring myself to believe that I can't. I have my beliefs, my doubts and cynicisms, I have a pretty good idea on what the world will bring me and what to expect. I've formulated a philosophy for my life that works for me, but is it set in stone? Can it change? I'd like to think so, it should grow and change and adapt as I do. But that isn't impressionism, that's influence. It's change. Impressions have already been made on me. So nothing major, certainly not just a decent book, can make me change my life.

And, after a long discussion with my wife, one that is sure to continue, I must conclude that I am past that impressionable phase (as far as spirituality goes, not, perhaps, meaning). I've read books far worse yet been moved by them far more, I've found God and spirituality in so many other things that I cannot possibly find in Life of Pi, not a bad thing, just a letdown of expectations.

The lesson here is that a book should not stake that claim that it may make one believe in God. It inevitably dooms the book. It takes the 100 page setup of the book that has no insight at all, but rather just an exploration with a child into the various forms of religion (Hinduism, Muslim, and Christianity), and forces the rest of the book stand in its shadow.

The book is quite moving, it's a great read, and I found the story exceptional. One insight the main character, Pi Patel, had particularly moved me. Pi found himself at the mercy of opposites. He would often want one thing, get it, and then want another. When it would rain, he would wish for the sun to be out, to be dry and warm; when it was hot, he'd give anything for a bit of freshwater to cool off with. It's an extremely common thing, to want something, to get it, and to hope for the opposite. And it's the balance and the acceptance of these opposites as a way of life that I found so endearing when reading this novel.

Pi survives over half a year at sea in a boat with a 350 pound Bengal tiger. It's a story that you should read, not so that you will believe in God, but because it will move you, it will make your life more meaningful, shine light on things you take for granted, and inspire you. You might read this book and find that life is amazing even in the darkest, most solitary moments.

No comments: