I didn’t get ‘Life of Pi’

Posted in books by jrahman on May 4, 2008

First published in September 2001, Life of Pi by Canadian author Yann Martel is a novel that explores religion and spirituality.  It won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2002.  This alone is a good reason for reading the book, and if you haven’t, don’t read any further because it may spoil an otherwise good yarn for you. 

This is not a book review as such.  Rather, it shows why I didn’t get the ‘deeper meaning’ of the novel.  

The novel promises a story that will make one believe in God.  So, what’s the story?  Well, there is this confused kid who gets shipwrecked and survives 200 something days in the Pacific Ocean.  Pretty amazing stuff.  The thing is, there are two versions of the story, one more fantastic and less sad than the other.  There is no way to tell which is true.  The only thing we know is that the ship sank and the boy survived.  And so it is with God, we’re told.


I read it and went, huh?  

Okay, so we — the human civilisation — are a ‘miracle’.  For life to form, we need a certain kind of star, and a planet that is a certain distant from the star, with a certain kind of atmosphere and mass and structure.  Then that life will have to evolve in a certain way for there to be any intelligence.  And the intelligence will have to be used in a certain way for there to be any civilisation.  And chances of all this happening is very low, and yet here we are.  

We have two sets of stories to choose from.  One story has a cosmic being / nature / supreme order / authority / God that gives this ‘miracle’ a sense of meaning and purpose.  The other story says that yes it’s a low probability event, but it has happened and there is no underlying rhyme or reason for it. 

The first is a more fantastic story.  The second is sad because it means that our lives don’t really mean much — the whole unbearable lightness of being. 


I knew all this before reading Life of Pi.  So after reading the book, I thought huh, this is not making me believe in God any more than what I did (or didn’t) before.  But then I thought, hmm, perhaps the idea of the book is to put doubt into the minds of believers.  But that just sounds far-fetched.

Then I remembered something I read about the Holocaust survivors.  The ones who were religious going in found their faith strengthened — didn’t their very survival prove God’s existence?  Those who were doubters on the other hand became even more so — what kind of God allows his chosen people to get wiped out? 

I guess so it is with this book — believers will believe, and the doubters will doubt.   

(Cross-posted at A-A-A).

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  1. shamshir said, on May 9, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    I agree, Jyoti bhai, that it wasn’t as deep as many made it out to be. But it was, you must admit, a fun book to read all the same. And an imaginative and thoughtful one too. I particularly liked the algae island bit.

  2. jrahman said, on May 10, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    The algae island was pretty cool. Gave me goosebumps.

  3. DS said, on May 10, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    I haven’t read the book. But that’s a really funny title for a blog post.:)

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  5. Shahana said, on July 25, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    it’s one of my favorite books and left me speechless for days. i don’t think it was completely about god and his existence. but rather the very thin line between reality and fantastical. it’s not magical realism. it’s something more tangible – it is the entire notion of what becomes “real”, that can be smelt, touched, destroyed, created and what is beyond it so as so that you sometimes try and remember where did it even begin. i think the closest example i can give is that of love for a child – when you stop and think about it (especially for mothers), it truly is a miracle. but the pooping, crying, annoyance is also very real. it would be easy to say that we take care of our young ones only for procreation purposes but then there are those moments that defy all logic, laws of physics and all you have left is the feeling of loving your child. pi and his journey was something similar. he went out to the great unknown and found something (or didn’t) which we know for certain is beyond the human imagination – at least for now.

    • jrahman said, on July 26, 2011 at 10:04 am

      Interesting analogy with the love for a child — I wasn’t in a position to make the connection when the post was written, but can see now what you mean.

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