Reading is like spending a bit of time in someone else’s brain. Through hundreds of books that I’ve perused, many authors have shaped my trains of thought long after I’ve closed the covers. One particular story comes back to me time and again—Life of Pi, by Yann Martel.
“It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names.”
This is a book, not only with an adventure to travel alongside, but with philosophical ideas to continue pondering. I read it in high school, and I still think about it sometimes.
Piscine, or Pi, the narrator, decides at an early age to adhere to Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, recognizing spiritual benefits in each religion. Despite society telling him he has to pick one, to follow one narrative, he chooses to partake in all. I took this idea literally when I was growing into adulthood—exploring my own faith by deciding which aspects of religion I valued.
Pi travels on a lifeboat with a zoo tiger, Richard Parker, after a shipwreck. The tiger eats a hyena, who attacked and ate other animals aboard. Instead of becoming prey, Pi trains the tiger. The descriptions of their adventures range from gorgeous, detailed imagery to the surreal.
When Pi hits dry land, Richard Parker runs into the jungle, and Pi talks to officials from the Japanese Ministry of Transport about the shipwreck. He offers them another story after the incredible tale of traveling with the tiger, in which he is the tiger, and the other animals on the lifeboat were other human passengers, resorting to cannibalism.
Life of Pi makes me think of philosophy and religion, and the importance of stories—especially to make sense of tragedy. I reflect on the nature of surviving, how sometimes we have to be fierce. It has given me the ability to move through life aware that there are many narratives shaping the world, and it has allowed me to develop the agency, the audacity, to write my own.