Woman Refuses to Believe Tiger Not On Board Lifeboat.

June 24th, 2007

I just finished reading the Life of Pi by Yann Martel It truly was a good book, but I was a bit confused by a few things. First, being a person that is generally interested in religion, I really liked how the boy practiced the varying forms. But somewhere in the book, the religion thing puttered out. I mean clearly being trapped on a life boat with a Bengali tiger may make the practicing of all four major world religions at the same time a lesser priority, but for me I think it may have become a greater priority. I am not complaining, I just wonder what happened to the religion? Seems to me like ritualistic behaviors often become more pronounced during times of stress, and not sort of glazed over. Then again after 200 days aboard a lifeboat with a Bengali tiger, maybe one ceases to believe. Then again waking up every day on board a life boat with a Bengali tiger is a miracle, so how could you cease to believe? Then again, after two hundred days aboard a life boat with a Bengali tiger, you might come to think of that as normal – and no longer a miracle. Even if the Bengali tiger is you, and the hyena is a french chef. But I digress.

The ending was unfortunate wasn’t it? I believe in fantastic events. I think they happen every day. I so want to believe there was a tiger on that boat. In fact – there was a tiger on that boat. That’s all there is to it. Tiger on board!

I do wish the story was knitted a little more tightly. It is almost like two books. The story of Pi in India with religion and the Zoo and the other story of Pi on a boat with a Bengali Tiger.

It is a book that I will think about for a long time. A story that will stay with me. A book I will encourage my sons to read at some point. A book that my husband and I will talk about and that will get discussed at family events and cocktail parties and cookouts. I will be standing in the middle of the deck with a plateful of potato salad screaming – A TIGER WAS ON BOARD…A TIGER WAS ON BOARD – while everyone else quietly sips their margaritas and avoids making eye contact with me.

A visceral book, yet gently confident and full of surprises just like Pi – the boy that WAS most certainly on the lifeboat with the Bengali Tiger.


  • Sarah H.:

    That is an amazing book. I read it about two years ago and I still think about it a lot, and I can’t say that about too many works of contemporary fiction. I, too, had a hard time believing the tiger story wasn’t the “true” one, and I also enjoyed the early section of the book in which the boy talks about religion. I think you’re right in linking the story about the tiger with the idea of faith; the early part of the novel is related to the later part. It’s just not an explicit relationship, but it’s one that’s difficult to put into words. I also find it interesting that some people reject the magical reality version of the story (with tiger) completely, while others (like you and me) are reluctant to part with it. I think the difficulty of determining what is “real,” and what we accept as real or not real is clearly the point of the tale. Speaking of magical realism, I just read “The Passion” by Jeannette Winterson, which was good, and the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Philip Pullman, which was fabulous but raises difficult questions regarding religion (and is really more fantasy than magical realism). I could type on this topic forever but I’ll quit now.

  • Rechelle:

    I have read the first “Dark Materials” book and really need to get on to the next one. I just kind of felt that religion sort of faded out as the book neared the end which was strange as it was so dominant at the beginning.

  • Sarah H.:

    Yes, you’re right: the discussion of religion fades away in the face of Pi’s survival narrative. But I have thought and thought about the relationship of the first part of the book to the second. I mean, assuming the author could have written the story any way he liked, why did he do it that way, with a big discussion of religion in the beginning and then a complete shift for the last two-thirds of the novel? The only conclusion I can come to is that Pi’s tale of the tiger on the boat is somehow an allegory about or commentary on the religious issues he raises. All the major world religions are essentially stories. Take Christianity, for instance: Its power is in a story–literally, a book. It is fantastic and full of things you think at times shouldn’t be believable, but somehow are because of faith. Isn’t that what Pi’s story of the tiger is? And isn’t it strangely deflating to find out in the end that the story may or may not be “true?” Does that make this a story about faith? These are the questions the book raises for me. I would be curious to know your conclusions, if you have any. Think about it while you’re cleaning your bathrooms. :-)

  • Rechelle:

    Sarah – I just have not yet arrived at the many places you have traveled. I am still stuck in “TIGER ON BOARD!”Maybe at some point it will start to crystallize for me. But what you say makes sense. It seems so random in a way – first we have religion and then it fades, but yes, maybe there was real thought there and the author was trying to make a statement. I don’t think he made it fearlessly though, as if he didn’t quite accept what he was presenting. Or it would be more clear – more tangible somehow.

  • Sarah H.:

    Or maybe I am full of crap, but it wouldn’t be the first time. I may read the book again one of these days and see if my memory of it is as clear as I think it is. I found it very difficult to think about the story for a long time, and my own thinking was complicated by the fact that my mom read it shortly after I did and didn’t buy the tiger tale at all. I’ll stop now. Please go on with your life.