Life of Pi - Yann Martel HOLY TALKING MUSHROOMS. This book was just ... fantastic. It was the kind of book that I finished reading and then, I could only sit there for a minute like, "Whooaaa ..." And it was on my mind for days afterward. Just thinking about it now makes me feel all tingly inside.Before I review a book, I always look at others' reviews––in case someone makes a point I hadn't thought about, or there was something I was going to say but I forgot and need a reminder, etc. And, WOW. I see this is definitely a love-it-or-hate-it type book. Looks like everyone either gives it one star or five stars.And I know I loved a book when the one-star reviews kind of infuriate me. Usually I'm rather indifferent to what other people say about a book; after all, everyone's entitled to their own opinion. But seeing a lot of the negative reviews of this book, I had the impulse to write the old-time trollish comment, "YOU MISSED THE POINT, YOU FOOL!" But, I restrained myself. I get it ... I understand how this is not the book for everyone. It's heavy on religious themes, it's graphic, it's depressing, it's not action-packed, it's surreal, it's confusing, and the writing style is a bit unusual. But personally, I found it to be quite the haunting and compelling tale.Here's the story:Piscine "Pi" Patel is a boy who grew up in his family's zoo. From a young age, his father has taught him that all animals––even the smallest ones––can be deadly. "Life will defend itself no matter how small it is," he says. "Every animal is ferocious and dangerous." Pi never forgets his father's lessons. Meanwhile, as he grows older, he becomes very curious about religion, and finds himself unable to devote himself to one exclusively––all he knows is that he loves God, in whatever form God exists. Despite criticism from family and friends, he refuses to stop practicing multiple religions.Then, when Pi is sixteen, his family is to move their zoo from India to Canada. On the journey, their cargo ship sinks. Pi, the only human survivor, is left on a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and a Bengal tiger.As one can imagine, violence and tension ensues. Soon only Pi and Richard Parker (the tiger) are left. (And don't tell me I'm spoiling the book ... I mean, look at the cover. There's only a kid and a tiger on it.) The majority of the book is about their survival and the twisted relationship between them.What I thought:On the surface, this is a great survival story. I grew up loving books like Island of the Blue Dolphins and Julie of the Wolves ... Stories where one person is forced to survive, only in the company of animals. So, I guess this was a more adult version of that type of story. I'm always fascinated by tales of people who survive even when all the odds are against them. Even if the story isn't true, it's a theme that appeals to me. It's also interesting how Yann Martel seems to imply that people are no better than animals––because no matter what species you are, you're born with the will to survive. Pi and all the animals on the lifeboat have one thing in common: they all want to live. And if it means killing each other, so be it. Another fascinating aspect of the story is Pi's relationship with Richard Parker. Even though the tiger is a danger to him, Pi is determined to keep Richard Parker alive and "tame" him. This self-assigned task is the only thing keeping him from falling into despair, from remembering his family is dead and from giving up hope.Now, I'm not a religious person. But I found the religious themes in the book very interesting. I define myself as agnostic ... and the author seems to have a problem with agnosticism, even more than he has problems with atheism. (Or at least, Pi has problems with it. I don't know about the author's beliefs.) He claims that agnostics live "in doubt" and miss the point of life or something ... Uhhhh. I would have to argue with him on that. But anyway, that's not the point. The point is, Martel brings up some interesting questions. Why can religions not exist in harmony? Why is one view of God right while the other is wrong?In the author's note, he says the man who told him this story said it would "make him believe in God", which is interesting. Throughout the story, it doesn't seem as if Pi loses his faith, despite the horrible circumstances. I saw comments from some reviewers that they thought this was supposed to be ironic, and therefore making fun of religion ... but I didn't feel that way about it. After all, Pi survives. (Once again, don't tell me I'm spoiling, because you find out he survives pretty early on in the story.) And could that not be considered miraculous? Anyway, point is, I thought the book was neither preachy nor making fun of religion, but merely presenting questions about the way everyone views God. Whether Pi's survival is a miracle or a coincidence, it is up for the reader to decide.This brings up something important, which is the very end of the book. I don't want to give anything too specific away, but let's say, it has a bit of a twist at the end. In the end, Pi is interviewed by two men who don't believe his story. So, he tells them an alternate story that doesn't involve the animals. Here's a bit of their conversation:"The Tsimtsum sank on July 2nd, 1977.""Yes.""And I arived on the coast of Mexico, the sole human survivor of the Tsimtsum on February 14th, 1978.""That's right.""I told you two stories that account for the 277 days in between.""Yes, you did.""Neither explains the sinking of the Tsitsum.""That's right.""Neither makes a factual difference to you.""That's true.""You can't prove which story is true and which is not. You must take my word for it.""I guess so.""In both stories the ship sinks, my entire family dies, and I suffer.""Yes, that's true.""So tell me ... which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with the animals or the story without animals?" ..."The story with animals is the better story.""Thank you. And so it goes with God."This one little snippet kept me thinking for a long time. At first I didn't really understand what it meant, but after thinking for a while, I assume the author's statement was that all faith is blind––and in choosing our religions, we simply choose the story that appeals to us the most. We can't change what happens to us, and we can't prove that any one religion is true, but we can choose which one we practice based on what we find the most interesting. Anyway, I realize I'm starting to make this book sound a bit heavy. And it is, but it's not all about religion. It also has a lot of humor in it, despite it being such a dark story. I didn't expect it to be such a funny book, but many parts had me laughing out loud––sometimes out of disgust, but mostly because the author says things in such a funny way. One part that particularly stands out to me is a part when Pi pees into a vial on the lifeboat and––in a thirsty craze––briefly considers drinking it. He says, "Mockery be damned, my urine looked delicious!" And for some reason, that sent me into a hysterical laughing fit. Maybe I'm juvenile, but really ... that's quite hilarious. Well, I guess that's about all I have to say. This book is brilliant, funny, thought-provoking, exciting, tense, well-written, original ... It blew my mind. Ask anyone in my family ... I couldn't shut up about this book. Go read it!