And so it is with God; ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel [2001]

lopI have spent the majority of my life, as an Atheist; briefly spending my early childhood as an Agnostic.The ‘Happy-Clappy’ Christians I was exposed to had a wonderful ability to scare a child to faith. I choose to believe, have faith, that there is no God. In my opinion religion is the world’s protection from, and cause of, death.

Sunday’s were my least favourite day as a child (this coming from someone whose school life was not exactly fantastic); we would wake early and leave for Church late, arriving as the service had begun. This was not a regular Protestant Church either; it was modern, and I loathed every moment of it. It is unnerving being in a place which makes absolutely no sense to you; made worse with unexplained hypocrisy, no matter how many questions asked. So, as I came to Life of Pi, knowing there were religious tones, I was not prepared for the encompassing exploration of faith I was presented with.

Life of Pi is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe.Synopsis from GoodReads

Piscine Molitor Patel’s, Pi’s, journey begins in India where his family own a Zoo. As economical and political times change Pi’s family decide to sell the zoo and move to Canada; the animals are sold and the family board a ship to take them to their new life. Barely into its journey the ship sinks and Pi is stranded on a life boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; his only companions a Zebra, Hyena, Orangutan and Tiger. One by one his companions die, and Pi is left to survive alone with Richard Parker. Marooned Pi begins to realise that without Richard Parker’s companionship he is dead, so he must master this Tiger and keep him alive.

I spent the majority of this book looking for God, not knowing where to find him. Once I had finished I could not help but wonder if this was Mantel’s point, to at least have us looking. While reading I felt Richard Parker represented death, Pi needed to learn that survival is overcoming fear, knowing that with life comes death; you cannot have one without the other.

Yet, as I finished Life of Pi I realised I had neglected to observe the bigger picture. I will not be able to explain this without spoiling the ending; if you have not read Life of Pi please skip to the end. Once Pi is rescued we are given another version of events at sea; another brutal, morally corrupt and cannibalistic adventure. Pi gives us two stories to choose between, the magical and the empirical; the magical story is for the religious, the one without, the atheists.

“I have a story that will make you believe in God.”Life of Pi by Mantell, Yann

I believe that if you want Pi’s story of Richard Parker to be true; an ending of faith and the survival of humans over the basic animal natures, then the life of Pi can lead you to believe in God. However, it also appears to be a safety net, protecting from the reality of his situation.

Pi never states which story is true, but I, as the Chinese businessmen did, chose to believe the rational explanation of what happened – that there were no animals and Pi equates himself with Richard Parker, the very predator he was trying to tame. This then lead me to wonder if to believe in God was to believe a story, not the truth. Yet, what Mantel is attempting to demonstrate is that you cannot prove either story, you are taking the word of another person, and that will always be subjective. Have a little faith and believe what feels right for you, not what someone tells you to believe. All Pi wants is to believe in and worship God, whatever God that may be; so he gives us the option of choice where he has been denied it.

I cannot help but wonder if had we not seen Pi grow, would we still be inclined to believe his story of the animals? A deeper level of understanding a person leads us to more readily believe what they say; we understand how they think, that they want to protect themselves and from that we protect them by accepting their story.

I am reminded of my meagre experience of reading the Bible; I would imaging reading the deeds of God and Christ would create an easier path to understanding the rules Christianity sets out from these parables. If someone unknown to you approached you and gave you suggestions on how to live your life you would ignore them; in the same vein if we did not understand the inner workings of Pi would we be as keen to understand the story of animals over the short story of brutality?

Maybe that is just the cynic in me.

4 thoughts on “And so it is with God; ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel [2001]

  1. I can relate somewhat to your background so it was interesting to read your review in that context. I wasn’t actually aware the book was about faith, it turns me off a bit (no problem reading about faith, but there’s always the worry of the book preaching too much, and as both of us noted about Quiet, you can have too much bias). However your post here is good and I like the way it sounds, more exploration than a telling. I can see why it divides readers now.


  2. I absolutely adore your thoughts on this book, especially with the background that you have from a religious point of view (or rather non-religious) and I did not consider it in that way, which I find really fascinating.


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