Life of Pi

Originally from an email written on Nov. 14, 2009:


I finished reading "Life of Pi" last night (Friday).  Thank you very much for the recommendation !  It’s an interesting read to say the least.  I’ve been reading this novel along with my other Chinese novel that I’d borrowed from the Queens’ library. Somehow at the end, I’ve finished this one first (though usually I’ve read Chinese faster).

The author has mixed journalism/autobiography with a novel very well … After finishing reading it, I’ve not been really sure whether "Pi" exists or not and I have had to google to look for the "truth" — but well, "truth" is probably only a matter of interpretation ?!   I think this is definitely intentional on the author’s part and it’s a good trick.

I’ve followed your "guidance" that I didn’t read any blurb in the front or back covers or other newspaper commentaries … and so I’ve had a few surprises especially the one in Pacific Ocean !  It just came suddenly when I thought I was going to read the story of the family of Pi in Canada.   I definitely like the surprise. 

And when you think you know the ending, the author puts in a 2nd version as some kind of reality check which actually mystifies the storyline or blur the line of reality or imagination.  What’s real ?  Everybody probably wants the story with animals rather than the one without animals.  Because the latter seems more cruel and darker.  But actually, it’s the same killings !  Just that it seems more cruel if you actually kill people rather than animals.  And yet the involvement of the Japanese investigators has an effect of making you re-realize that this may be a real story. The Japanese characters are as cliché as those in Hollywood movies … and they do maintain those "funniness" as usual.  It’s the Japanese’ comics which neutralize a bit of the pain and brutality of the 2nd version.

I guess survival is hard and towards the end (or even starting from the middle), cruelty is like a norm.  I still feel very sorry to read the mayhem or slaughter of meerkats by Richard Parker.  But somehow, the reader gets used to it as it’s kind of a reality or necessity in the wild world ?!  When a vegetarian has nothing to eat, eating animals is a surviving necessity.   Richard Parker is also mysterious at the beginning.  It was mentioned a couple times before the real "introduction" appeared.  I kept thinking whether I had forgot about the introduction of it.  It’s another interesting element of mystery.

The prologue seems to say that the story would make you believe in God.  Either I didn’t get it or it’s just another trick of the author to entice you to read the story.  The religious fraction of the novel to me is kind of comic.  The most amusing part is when a priest, a pandit and an imam (the latter two words are new additions to my personal English "database") all came to talk to Pi at the same time and location thinking that Pi is a pious Christian or Hindu or Muslim.  As naive as Pi was, he tried to be a Hindu, Christian and Muslim at the same time and the pandit, priest and imam didn’t allow him to be.  And why not ?!  That’s what Pi had protested.  I think Islam and Christianity can be merged into one.  The real problem is whether Jesus is God’s son or Mohammed is the last Prophet, right ?!  But probably Hinduism is another story….

And overall, in spite of all have been said, I think religion plays only a very small part in this book. It’s the mix of reality and imagination which has been followed through more thoroughly throughout the book. Sometimes I was not sure whether it’s protagonist’s imagination or what had actually happened (at least in one version of his story).  There is probably no objectivity (especially in a novel) but just whatever you want it to be.

The previous English novel I read (which was a couple weeks ago) was David Baldacci’s "Divine Justice" and it’s a political thriller and government conspiracy genre and is full of suspense.  I’ve found it very hard to put it down after reading thirty pages or so into it.  But it’s not the case for this book.  Because one doesn’t even need to guess the ultimate fate of the protagonist (the downside of ‘autobiography’ type of book).  What’s happened in Pacific Ocean was a huge surprise to me but then I’ve found it to be dragging for too long.  I soon went to find out when that part of the story would end and how many pages there were before this part finished.  Near the end of that part, the cruelty has also suddenly increased which came kind of unprepared, too.  At times, I was impatient but it’s OK because I could then switch to my Chinese novel.  The final chapter, though, was the portion that I’ve read the quickest. It’s partly due to the dialogues (which are always faster for people to read) and the twist has kind of lured me to read it before I slept.

In any case, it’s sort of a unique book among the 160 books that I’ve read since early 2006.  I like it and thanks again for the recommendation !!




About kinyip

An experimental particle physicist ...
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