There is something distinctly non-American about the narrative in “Life of Pi.” A flow of story that writers here seem to have forgotten: an seemingly infinite expansion when the story becomes wide and sweeping; a narrowing speedup where the story starts rushing like a rapid. Unpredictability is hence the motto, and it serves the story well.
Life of Pi is a narrative that brought me closer to life, to nature, to humanity. It is probably the best work of fiction I have read this year, by a wide margin. Throughout the reading, I felt reminded of writers like Italo Calvino, who by force of their language evoke a world that does not exist, and make us believe in it for the split second we can give them our undivided attention.
Pi, the title hero, is a young Indian man from Pondicherry, whose father owns a zoo. For political reasons, the family is uprooted, forced to give up their zoo and to travel with their animals to America. Tragedy ensues while crossing the Pacific: their boat is lost, Pi is saved in a lifeboat with some of the animals. Amongst them, a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a Royal Bengal tiger.
Quickly, all animals dispatch each other, and only Pi and Richard Parker, the tiger, are still on the boat. And they survive together. Pi will fish for himself and the tiger, knowing that if he doesn’t feed the best, then he soon will be food for him. And Richard is an anchor for the little boy. Together they will make it through, and only together.
Once in a while the story gets really gruesome, and you may have to skip a page or two if you are faint of heart. For the most, though, you will follow the boy, the tiger, and their ordeal with awe.
Yet, strikingly, the story bills itself as one that will make you believe in God. This story made me believe in the strength of life, and its will to survive; it made me believe in nature; it made me believe in story-telling. But I am not sure where God was in this story.