Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, is perhaps one of the greatest books on philosophy ever written, delving heavily into themes of faith and hope, all while telling the exciting story of a boy and a tiger.

The story goes like this: Piscine Patel is a young Indian boy who lives on a zoo. There, surrounded by animals and the beauty of nature, Pi develops a fascination with religion, exploring and questioning every aspect of it. When his family is shipping the zoo across the ocean, a storm sinks the ship. As the sole survivor, Pi is cast to sea on a lifeboat, with only a Bengal Tiger as his companion. While drifting on the Pacific Ocean, Pi survives and slowly creates his own perception of faith and hope.Life of Pi book cover art, by Yann Martel

From the surface, Life of Pi seems like another tale of adventure and survival, much like Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. However, I personally think that Yann Martel was more writing about the concept of religion. Even the themes of hope and survival are all linked back to Pi’s faith in God, or Gods.

Right from the beginning of the book, Pi establishes himself as an extremely religious person, becoming a devout Christian, Muslim, and Hindu all at once. When the truth comes out, all of his religious leaders and parents push him to settle on one religion. Pi replies, “‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God” (Martel 69). Whether he is correct in saying this is unimportant, because the purpose is to show the frivolous nature of rivalry between religions. At the same time, he felt that atheists were his “brothers and sisters of a different faith” (28). Of course, when his situation spirals into survival on the ocean, Pi’s faith is shaken, but he finds his own peace with his God.

Life of Pi surpasses an average philosophy textbook because Martel doesn’t monotonously write about philosophical concepts. Instead, he weaves a beautiful story with elements of philosophy introduced alongside Pi’s experiences on the ocean and in his zoo. In this way, the story’s excitement and thoughtfulness work in tandem, each making the other more meaningful.

In conclusion, Life of Pi is a beautifully written book that will leave you questioning your existence without having to endure the boredom of a typical book of philosophy. Perfect!

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Phillip Xiang

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