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Book Report: Life of Pi

Image. from here.
Call me crazy, but I kind of miss the old school book report. After turning the last page and closing the back cover of a great book, don't you sometimes feel sad that that's it? Reading alone has it's benefits; no one can tell you what to believe about the book or what it "means." But then I read something like this book, full of meaning and allegory and a very confusing ending, and I miss having a room full of people to challenge me, make me angry and help me find those moments of excitement where I realize a whole other layer of meaning to what I was reading. That is the value of reading in a class, or a book group, or whatever.

The book that's making me think this way is Yann Martel's Life of Pi. I know I'm late in the game getting to this book, but normally I sidestep the literary juggernaut that is the Oprah Winfrey book club. But damnit if she wasn't right about this one.

Image from here.
 Life of Pi is the perfect novel to read as you're stuck in the midst of a cold and dreary Midwestern winter, needing something to remind you that life is not all grey, cold and dismal. The book will transport you to the heady, warm culture of Southern India where Pi, the 15-year old protagonist, is raised among animals at his family's zoo. When he is shipwrecked in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you can't help but appreciate the warm, dry roof over your head and the food (leftover cranberry relish, anyone?) in your belly. You will also appreciate the tame kitty curled up beside you, as you read about Pi's lifeboat companion, a full grown Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Suraj Sharma Cast In "Life of Pi"
Image from here.
Pi is perhaps one of my all-time favorite narrators. Coming from a family of zoo-keepers, Pi has an intrinsic and experiential understanding of animal behavior that is fascinating and vast. He loves animals unconditionally; he appreciates their natural qualities--appealing or not -- and doesn't patronize them by attempting to humanize them. Richard Parker, the tiger, is the leader of a veritable parade of animal characters -- a hyena, a zebra, rhinos, orangutans, and my favorite, the meercats -- and his presence in the story is at times menacing, comedic and heart-wrenching. 

Pi is also an amazing believer, devoutly ascribing to Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, all at the same time. He practices an ideal form of faith -- loving God unconditionally, and accepting the religious traditions around him simply as a way to access and express that love -- not as restrictions to it. The author claims Pi's is a story to make you believe in God, and while that may or may not be true for you, the tale is indeed an uplifting one. A story of one boy surviving--and finding beauty--in the most harrowing of circumstances...sounds like the ideal way to escape the winter blues, right?

Also, let's make a date to see the movie version in 2012.

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