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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Thoughts: Life of Pi

by J.R. Wagner

Click on cover to visit illustrator's blog -very cool!

This is Not a review! Well...if you twist your head slightly while reading this post you may think it is a review...but it's not!

And for the record, I finished this book well before the release of the movie (at least three weeks) so I am not a bandwagon rider...or am I? It was originally published in September 2001 so I suppose I am behind on the reading curve.

From my friends at Wikipedia:

Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The protagonist, Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel, an Indian boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Richard Parker (from the movie)

Life of Pi is a beautifully written novel. I imagine many readers picked up this book, started reading and after several dozen pages are wondering; 'When is the shipwreck going to happen? Where is the tiger?' And maybe when they got to page fifty and there was still no sign of a sinking ship or a Bengal tiger they decided to put it down and move on to something else.

The shipwreck/tiger sequence doesn't begin until page 97. As a teen reader I would have either skipped ahead to this part or simply gave the book 'the boot'. As an adult, the first 97 pages are some of the most beautifully written insights I've seen in any book.  Martel delves fearlessly into spirituality and religion giving his main character,  Pi, an insatiable curiosity about the subjects.

If you're rolling your eyes right about now and considering not reading this book because of what I've just written, bear with me. I'm going to attempt to convince you otherwise.

One of my favorite lines Martel wrote on the subject:

To chose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation. [p28]

Martel wrote this great scene where, after sampling three religions. Pi was walking with his parents when he spotted his Hindu, Christian and Muslim mentors heading in his direction (each of whom he had been seeing and practicing in secret)

When I saw the first, I smiled; by the time I had laid eyes on the third, my smile had frozen into a mask of horror. When it was clear that all three were converging on us, my heart jumped before sinking very low.

Christian priest
The scene moves forward, each introduces themselves to Pi's parents and then the akward silence came until it was broken by the christian priest.

"Piscine is a good Christian boy.  I hope to see him join our choir soon."

And then the conversation digresses into a humorous back and forth between the priest, the imam and the pandit.

Muslim imam
"You must be mistaken. He's a good Muslim boy. He comes without fail to Friday prayer, and his knowledge of the Holy Qur'an is coming along so nicely." So said the imam.

Hindu pandit
The Pandit spoke. "You're both wrong. He is a good Hindu boy.  I see him all the time at the temple coming for darshan and performing puja."

My parents, the imam and the priest look astounded.

I understand that this situation may not intrigue everyone and may very likely offend others.  But that's the beauty of the entire sequence. Teenagers are curious about religion. Rather than being pigeonholed into a single religion at an early age, Pi took it upon himself to explore all that was out there.  There are lessons to be learned here about how we educate our children about religion.

Anyway, I found the first 96 pages if Life of Pi, where we learn about his childhood in India, his curiosity about religion and much, much more -all of it relateable to his behavior further along in the story, highly entertaining.

Now, on page 97 we get to the shipwreck and survival story.  Don't worry, I won't blow anything about what happens here.  Having not seen the movie, only the trailers and reviews, it appears as though Ang Lee has softened this entire sequence to get a PG rating.

In the book, the sinking and the aftermath that follows for the next few days is, well horrifying.  It is violent and bloody and scary.  It is far from violence for violence's sake and, as you find out in the end of the book, this sequence (which appears to have been cut out of the movie, although I am not certain) plays a major role.

The book was written for adults. The movie was made for children.  I find it difficult if not impossible to gap that bridge while still holding true to the book.  If anyone can do it, Ang Lee can.  I really hope he hasn't bitten off more than he can chew. (pun intended).

When I see the film, I hope to be able to share Lee's success with everyone! Oh, and I put the movie trailer below for anyone interested.

BTW, the soundtrack by Mychael Danna is excellent! (if you like movie soundtracks...I always listen to them when writing)

Click to have a listen!


To purchase Exiled, bid on the movie rights, hire me as a writer for the next Blade Runner film, the next Star Wars film...for videos, fan art, contests and more, visit my website!

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