My roommate challenged me to read this book since neither he nor his family members could seem to get past the first 75 or so pages. Out to prove to him that this book was readable, I set out on a journey with a young boy named Pi as he struggles to survive on a lifeboat with a tiger.
I will admit that I felt the book started out slowly. The author builds up a lot of history around Pi and the zoo that his family runs. With it are some good discussions about God which are variably interspersed amongst discussions of animals and India. It seems to ramble on at points, and I can understand how some would lose attention.
But in an instant this changes when Pi is on a cargo ship which sinks, leaving him stranded and afraid on a lifeboat with a tiger, hyena, monkey, and zebra. Within a short amount of time all of the animals are killed with the exception of the tiger, which Pi must learn train for self preservation. Martel continues the novel by chronicling the challenges Pi experiences as he slowly starves on the boat, adapting and learning along the way.
Eventually I started to feel like I was in the lifeboat with him, experiencing what Pi did in his quest for survival. The reader cannot help but be joyful when he is finally rescued, and sad when he is separated from his companion, a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Martel shocks once again when Pi is asked to tell two men from an insurance company what happened to cause the boat to sink. He tells them the entire story that the audience has just read- this is his initial account. But, the insurance men point out several ways as to how his story does not match up, and thereby invalidate it. Pi then tells a one page account in which his mother, two sailors, and an evil chef are represented by the animals, where they brutally murder and eat each other. The insurance men have a dismal response to the gruesome tale. After a pause, Pi asks them which story they would have preferred to hear, the more pleasant one including animals or the one with more “facts”. They do not know how to respond. Pi then states “So it is with God”.
Thus the whole point of the novel is exposed. With this one statement Martel reconnects the ending to the beginning, in which it is explained that a faith in God should be just that. Martel definitely believes that the means are not as important, as long as the main facts are the same. In Pi’s story, the main facts were as follows: the ship sank, he survived. Everything else was left to interpretation to those around him. Likewise, with believing in God the means should not matter as much as the main fact itself: I believe in God.
Martel further supports this through the very ending of the story, in which she leaves the ending ambiguous. The tiger was never found, however there is nothing to prove that either of his story was more “right” than the other. Thus, she leaves it up to the reader to either decide for themselves which story likely occurred, or to just accept that both stories may have taken place and leave it at that.
Whatever you decide, I believe this is a good book to read if you are seeking adventure with subtle religious undertones. The level of depth you may take from this story is up to you, but whether looking for a light read that parallels any other with survival and adventure or a deep read that leads to philosophical debate, this book can be a good choice for you.