A tale of incredible grit in truly testing times of adversity
Reviewer: Aisoorya Vijayakumar
Should this book be deemed to be a fantasy, given its entrancing, yet far-from-credible, storyline? Or should we designate it as an epithet of growing up philosophies, as felt by a surprisingly erudite 16-yr-old protagonist? Maybe we should mark this as a book of daring adventures and (literally!) wild confrontations, where the very belief in survival is fighting a game of double jeopardy. This abashing work gives rise to all these and a lot more questions and one finds it bewilderingly hard to characterize this novel as anything in particular.
Stupefying though it may sound, it is said to have been rejected by close to five publishing houses, before Knopf Canada decided to promulgate this novel by publishing it.
It went on to be critically and thunderously acclaimed, and of all the plentiful laurels it received, what stays in one's mind is that it won the man booker prize for fiction in 2002.
Written by Yann Martel, the tale revolves around a life-changing 227-day journey on a lifeboat, that a 16-year-old Piscine Mollitor Patel (in short, Pi) undertakes, in the alarmingly frightening company of a 400-pound-bengal tiger.
Released in Sep 2001. The story is set in 1977, in Pondicherry, a former French-colonised Indian union territory. All the places cited in the novel are for real and form an integral part of India's delightful past and present.
How did the book fare?
The novel made heads turn, no doubt! And turn dangerously wide angles at that! Till date, most readers give the impression of utter predicament if asked how they liked the book. Torn between having to decide on a yes or a no, for a book that some think borders on incongruity, their dilemma is written painfully clear for all to see. The Guardian's review was a compound of admiration and nihilism. And BBC's Finlo Rohrer's review made it amply vivid that the entertainment staff of the establishment did not get amazed by Martel's prowess.
Did I like it?
It's immensely difficult to not find this formidable book remarkable, if not exquisite. So for the very reason that the book stands for its convictions amidst mundane monotony - yes, I did like it.
As the book begins – (Coffee Bean's reaction) One eyebrow raised 1/8th of an inch, Jeeves style – So this ultra-smart kid Pi, blessed with splendid insight is drowning in his self-glories! Ouch! So much for the hype! The boy needs an immediate dose of emergency humility. The take on animal life and time-surpassing questions on the moral ethicity of imprisoning animals in zoos are memorable though. And so are his lines on spirituality. For all his repulsive narcissism, the boy does have brains.
As the plot unfolds - (Coffee Bean's reaction) Alright, the boy and his parents are setting sail to Canada with their zoo animals. The ship sinks and the boy survives, with a zebra, a hyena, and an orangutan on a life boat and urges Richard Parker to latch on as well. Can they survive the journey of 227 days on that pitiable lifeboat at all? That forms the story which blends fleeting emotions and adventure.
When Richard Parker's identity is revealed, both my eyebrows were raised at the turn of events – A bengal tiger on a life boat?!! Whoa! A 16-yr-old Pi and a 400-pound Parker. If only the knot of this had hit the heads of some well-admired moviemakers I can think of. What a temptingly 'cute' setting to delve into the onset of a crude, chilling, and yet cherishable friendship. I can almost even hum the violin score on the background as their relationship evolves into the millennium’s tauntingly sensational (another bit of female chorus vocals here) story of a lovely bond! As Shakespeare's lines go, “That ends this strange eventful history!”
But thankfully, Martel has kept this scary temptation in check and has narrated the difficulties and delusions of this situation. How Pi and Parker thrive and how you want to read between Martel's lines to digest the complete implications of his tale is up to you, as the reader. There are lessons to learn, and then there are lessons to remember. The cynics might allegorize this, the believers might plunge headlong inside, the critics might objectively butcherise this, and the weak-hearted might give up on this early on. Whichever way one looks at it, the story is undeniably enthralling.
Lines that caught my wandering attention:
The reason death sticks so closely to life isn't biological necessity—it's envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can.
To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.
For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart.
I did not count the days or the weeks or the months. Time is an illusion that only makes us pant. I survived because I forgot even the very notion of time.
There were many seas. The sea roared like a tiger. The sea whispered in your ear like a friend telling you secrets. The sea clinked like small change in a pocket. The sea thundered like avalanches. The sea hissed like sandpaper working on wood. The sea sounded like someone vomiting. The sea was dead silent.
If you stumble at mere believability, what are you living for? Isn't love hard to believe?
Don't you bully me with your politeness! Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?
What's the verdict?
The book definitely is in the list of my thousand-books-to-read-before-you-die list. Alright that 'thousand' was wistful exaggeration, but am sure you get the point! It may not be every reader's favorite, but the book does give one a lot of rhyme and reason to look into oneself and check what one believes in. For steering away from age-old conventionalities and for a capital clarity in thoughts and words, the book deserves a 7.5 on 10.
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