Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Life of Pi

In 2012 the movie The Life of Pi was a major international release and won several Academy Awards. I never saw the movie, but the commericials piqued my interest. However, my interest was not so much based on any understanding of what the movie was about, but from the crisp images and the vivid colors. After some time passed, all I remembered was a story that involved a boy and a huge tiger. I made a note that I would add the original book, The Life of Pi, to my reading list.

The story involves a young teenage boy named Piscine "Pi" Molitor Patel, an Indian boy living with his family in SE India in the town of Pondicherry. Pi's family owns a local zoo and Pi is fascinated with the different animals, their behaviors, their interactions, and how they assume their roles in the heirarchy of their habitats. Pi is a thoughtful and impressionable boy. Ultimately in his quest to just know God, he associates himself as a Christian, a Hindu, and a Muslim. After a time, Pi's father decides that the shifting political and economic landscape of India will not allow his family to rise to a higher level, so he decides to sell the zoo and move to Canada. He books passage for his brood on a freighter crossing the Pacific. A few days out of the Phillipines, something goes terribly wrong and the ship sinks quickly. Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, and an zebra that were being distributed from his family's zoo to various zoos in Canada. An uneasy equilibrium exists for a few days before the notably nervous hyena attacks and kills the zebra and the orangutan. Shortly thereafter we find the source of the hyena's distress, another passenger on the liferaft who had been hidden from view beneath the shelter of a tarpaulin, was a 450 lb Bengal tiger. In time the tiger kills the hyena and Pi figures that his time is marked.

As the days turn into weeks, we see Pi working to put his knowledge of animal psychology toward establishing himself as the alpha leader of the lifeboat. This molding of behavior is not something that happens quickly, but one small step at a time. Encounter by encounter. Interaction by interaction. Pi is not only clever and resourceful, but also spirited and respectful. Ultimately he is adrift in the lifeboat for 227 days before he washes up on the shores of Mexico. As he tells his tale, nobody believes a word of it. His story is so bizarre, the colorful imagination of a mind addled by exposure and grief. Yet even through his lowest lows, Pi never loses his faith and his loving spirit. He bends but never breaks. This was a fantastic read with an original premise. I very much enjoyed this one. It was an uplifting example of the beauty possible in the human spirit.