I finished re-reading this book last week, while in my cotton-headed state. Perhaps it’s what prolonged that state of being for a while…the book is wont to have that effect!
I remember feeling confused, moved, restless and uneasy after reading it the first time. It was unsettling then and it is unsettling now. It is one of the few books that will haunt me forever, never leave my consciousness, probably because of the way the author deals with issues that interest me – the resilience of the human spirit and its will to survive in the face of gargantuan odds, the power of faith, the intricacies of the human mind, boundaries in the physical & ethical world, and the healing power of love that allows us to survive the worst of our nightmares, whether physical, mental or spiritual.
There are so many things I treasure about this book; it’s hard to know where to begin. An excellent story, fascinating characters and a strong interplay of science and religion (my favourite), all make for an amazing read, but if I were to start at the very beginning, I guess I would start with Pi – his name and how he got it! Piscine Molitor Patel – with a name like that, it’s almost criminal to expect a life on the straight and narrow. A name like that begs adventure, excitement, a life less ordinary! I love the author’s descriptions of the diverse environments in which the story is set. Pondicherry & the Zoo. The Sea. The Human Mind. With minimum fuss and deft strokes, he sketches each to perfection! Love the Zoo and its animals – how they live, interact and survive their cages. He explodes many myths about zoo animals, especially with regard to their need for freedom and I love how every animal story he tells (and there are many) has a lesson for us humans in it! Great writing!
I also enjoyed reading about Pi’s forays into religion and the fact that he does so more out of curiosity rather than compulsion, interested me. I appreciated the way the author has approached the subject, keeping his language, Pi’s motivation and the followers of different faiths that he encounters, simple and clear and almost one-dimensional, rather true to life I thought. Loved the nonchalant way his parents react and the dialogue that follows between them and the representatives of the three faiths that Pi has espoused, after the outing of his ‘multi-religiousness’, is delicately yet superbly done. The author manages to avoid offending sensibilities by keeping the dialogue matter of fact and to the point and I like that he doesn’t let Pi back down in the face of societal prejudice. It is one of the high points in the book for me.
The shipwreck, is so clinically described, that for a while, like Pi, I almost disbelieve that it has indeed occurred! The events that follow are gruesome, tragic and surreal, making for an awesome read, if you’re not squeamish. The description of the Sea in its various ‘avatars’, is fascinating and only fitting I thought, in a tale where it is a major, if not ‘the’ major character. At the end, when Pi hits landfall at last, is when the geography really hit me. He’s drifted from somewhere near Manila to Mexico! Incredible, unbelievable, astounding! Without giving the story away, suffice it to say, that my reactions mirrored those of the men that Pi tells his stories to in Mexico, and the fact that they did taught me something about myself, while offering important insight into the machinations of the human mind and the extreme measures it can take to ensure survival. This book reaffirms my belief that humanity is geared to survive. It is our strongest instinct and though most of us thankfully will never have to go through such extremes as Pi did to know it exists, nevertheless, it’s what keeps us going through all the petty trials and tribulations of our everyday lives.
And so I come to Richard Parker, one of my favorite characters in literature, brilliantly imagined and written, and for me, the single reason (if I had to pick just one) this book is extraordinary! In turns abhorred and beloved, in turns friend and foe, in turns devil and savior, in turns tiger and man – he is unforgettable! Enough said 🙂
This book will offer fresh insights every time you read it. It is a many-layered story that will engage your imagination and intellect on many levels. Yet it is neither over-written nor over-thought and at its core, it is still about the universal battle of ‘good versus evil’ and relationships…with self, the rest of the world and the Almighty.
A must read!