life of pi

January 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

It’s been more than 5 years since I last read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. I tried to read it twice then, but wasn’t able to finish it the second time around. But attempting to read a book twice is something I rarely do.


Last night, I watched the movie and as much as the movie was within the standard confines of “good enough”, I found myself gripped by the last few lines of the script. The exact lines in the book, which is a conversation of “Yann Martel” and Pi [now I understand why the book got me confused if it was fiction or not] goes:

“I told you two stories that account for the 227 days in between”

– yes you did

“Neither explains the sinking of the Tsimtsum (ship)”

– that’s right

“Neither makes a factual difference to you”

-that’s true

“you can’t prove which story is true, and which is not. You must take my word for it.”

– I guess so.

“In both stories the ship sinks, my entire family dies, and I suffer”

– yes, that’s true

“So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals”

– the story with animals

“yes, the story with animals is the better story… and so it goes with God.”

That last line got me thinking about what exactly Yann Martel meant.  After mulling about it last night and reading some online book reviews, I realized that I had missed a lot of the deeper meaning of the book when I read it before. But I guess that happens with a lot of the books I read.  After all, the depth of meaning that a reader understands from a book would be somehow proportional to the number of times he/she read it. You don’t really expect to understand the whole of a book in one reading. Even with text as short as songs, it takes several times listening to it before one fully appreciates the meaning of the lyrics (if any, that is – we are not short of senseless songs these days). I even recall during our high school literature class, poems shorter than the height of my palm could take the whole hour to discuss.  Often times, the context in which the reader is situated can also either help him/her understand, or in the same way not understand, the message that the author tried to embody in the text. In fact, one can also argue that as with any piece of art, the meaning can be both from the creator, or from the spectator. But this whole take on whose responsibility it is to give meaning to a work of art will lead us to lengthy discussion quite distant from the point of my blog post.

So anyway, going back to this conversation, Yann Martel appears to be making an analogy between the belief in God and the opposing atheistic view of life. Of everything that happens in our life, there are things which we humans can all agree as “facts”.  Living a life of “facts” is not a matter of choice, and so everyone lives with it.  On the other hand, believing in the reason of God behind these “facts” is a matter of choice, thus open to debate.  Yann Martel was able to beautifully pose a point in his Life of Pi when he implicitly tells us readers that the belief in God is the better story (the entire lost-in-sea-with-Richard-Parker story does give such a profound effect); and naturally a belief devoid of anything-but-the-facts would be the more boring story. In effect, he poses to the reader a stark contrast of the two cases, making his point more vividly acceptable due to the utility of a Bengal tiger and a carnivorous island and so forth and so on.  This take however actually does nothing to help either side of the debate. For believers, it would appear as if Yann Martel reduced religion into a false story, yet better sounding. For the non-believers, it would be a subtle “your life is boring dear”.  Though it seems more like a point for the agnostics. And like how one reviewer sadly ended his opinion with a disappointed “I hope I misunderstood this part”, I too somehow feel the same way for this beautiful piece of literature, for the time being. I think it would be best for me to re-read the book to give a committed opinion. After all, Yann Martel does not say which story is in fact true, leaving the decision to the reader. If it does turn out that such is really the case, Yann Martel’s point would not surprisingly be acceptable to majority of the medial age, who struggle to find meaning in life and proof for the existence of God. Perhaps, if anything, choosing to believe in the better story would eventually lead to faith in God in the long run. But I still love how Yann Martel masterfully depicts such trenched levels of meaning in a simple story of a boy, with his tiger, lost in sea.  Of how a shift in perspective can change the whole undertaking of a story.  Of how faith can make all the difference (although this was not depicted well enough in the movie).

Of course lastly, I have to agree that really the one with animals is indeed the better story. :)


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