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A Voice in the Wilderness

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. -- William O. Douglas

Friday, October 23, 2009

Life of Pi - my review

**Please note: this review contains spoilers**

"Life of Pi" is the story of a 16 year old boy named Piscine Patel who shortened his name to "Pi" after suffering untold taunts by his peers who jeeringly mispronounced his name and called him 'pissing.'

Pi is the son of a zoo owner in India who decides to sell off his animals after becoming disenchanted with the current political situation in his home land. Many of the animals that have been sold are in transit by cargo ship which Pi and his family are on when the ship suddenly capsizes en route to Canada where the Patel family is moving.
Pi is the only Human survivor. The ensuing story recounts two parallel stories recounting the tale of his survival during his 227 days lost at sea.

The longer story is about how he is accompanied by a Bengal tiger (named Richard Parker), a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a rat.

The shorter one is one of tragedy where he witnesses the murder of his mother.
The conclusion is left to the reader to decide. The story involving the animals is highly detailed so it is difficult to discount, However, it is also so incredible that it is difficult to believe.

There is a difference between prevarication - the act of lying and confabulation - the act of making a story up as it is being told. While my experience has shown me that when people do not tell the truth and moreover, when they choose to tell a lie, the good ones tend to mix the truth with the lie. Thus when any semblance of the truth is presented, it tends to lend credence to the lie as well. As a result, I have found that when it is mixed together, when you buy the truth you also accept the lie.

Thinking about Pi, I am left to wonder whether the entire elaborate story is nothing more than his psychological attempt to erase the trauma of watching his mother murdered and cannibalized. Most people never been in a life and death situation which required them to consume another Human's flesh - and in Pi's case, his own mother's flesh. But I would consider it entirely logical that, it might be a terror of unimagined proportions to deal with such a reality while either at sea as Pi was or once he was rescued.

To that end, I find myself wanting to believe the first story but dreading the thought that the confabulation is Pi's attempt to explain something his consciousness has forced him to forget.
This is a fascinating story that I never imagined could or would happen and I commend Yan Martel for doing such an artful job of telling it.

It is the kind of story that makes you want to keep reading and the second story only comes at the end so it hits you in the gut when you begin to imagine the possibility of it even being true.
The second story's introduction so late in the book is a major shock and I think the first story could have easily been sufficient.

Ultimately, the conclusion is left for the reader to decide. Like it or not, the chosen conclusion will be the determinant as to whether the reader is an optimist or a pessimist, a pragmatist versus realist. Personally, I keep jumping back and forth. I'll probably have to read it all over again.

Never the less, having read the book to its conclusion, I am left wondering; is it prevarication or confabulation?
I believe that is what good fiction should do so, I wouldn't change a thing.

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