Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Life of Pi Redux


Don't read this if you plan on reading the book and you don't want spoilers!

Dan asked me what my take on the Life of Pi was? So instead of burying it in the comments I thought I would post about it.

Like I said before the Life of Pi is a book that pays huge dividends upon completion, and upon reflection. It is a book that claims to make you believe in god. While that is a bold claim, which depending upon ones own constitution may or may not be true, it will certainly make you reflect upon the divine.

The claim itself made me have high ambitions for the book, not because I believed it, but rather because it reminded me of the opening of my favorite book, 'A Prayer for Owen Meany', the narrator of that book claims that it was Owen who made him believe in god, and to be honest, A Prayer for Owen Meany was a book that helped me regain my faith in a time of doubt, so I was hoping that Pi would be an equally powerful narrative.

It was a powerful story and it will make me think and reflect for days to come, but if I were to succinctly give my take on the book, I think the message is about the power of stories to influence and even sustain faith. The book never mentions the 'truth' of the divine, and that will bother a lot of people who think that truth is the beginning and end of religion. And it reduces the religious life to living out better stories, stories of hope, stories of redemption, stories of survival, rather than living out stories that are cold and materialist (in the technical sense), but that's not a bad reduction. What one needs to live out these better stories is an imagination that itself is empowered by faith. So the novel has a lot to chew on.

The problem I find with this narrative, is not that it ignores truth, but rather that it ignores community. But this is not really a serious problem I have with the novel, because I wouldn't expect the novel to grasp this, or want it to, it is simply something I would like keep in my own mind when I reflect upon this book.

There are some killer themes in this book in regards to language, truth, and of course stories. These themes when dealt with in a novel are always riveting to me, and that is part of why I enjoyed the novel, but even if you don't get into these themes the book is still worth a read.

Some choice quotes:

On Tradition:

"But we should not cling! A plague upon fundamentalists and literalists!"

This quote reminded me of the seminal work by Fishbane on Ancient Israel. Fishbane's main point was to show how the traditions of Israel changed to meet the new circumstances of the present. If traditions don't change they become naturally become impotent.

On Language:

"Doesn't the telling of something always become a story? ...Isn't telling something - using words - already something of an invention?...The world isn't how it is. It is how you understand it, no? And in understanding something we bring something to it, no? Doesn't that make life a story?”

Yes it does Pi, Yes it does.... "And so it goes with God."

1 comment:

dan said...

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to this post.

I think we have a fairly similar read of 'The Life of Pi'.

By the way, I also greatly enjoyed 'A Prayer for Owen Meany'. Have you read 'The World According to Garp'?

So just one question remains:

How does the damned island fit into the story of Pi?!