In truth, I have never really been a great fan of English class, or English literature for that matter. I am not naive enough to believe it has no value, yet, I am usually dissatisfied with the feeling that I am pushed to enjoy the written word, apart from just appreciating it independently. Yet, in this increasingly rational society, I am starting to realize the importance of literature such as Life of Pi. This is completely juxtaposing to the books I typically like to read: books that give me pure, unadulterated knowledge that describe something that I wish to learn about for the purpose of research or simple curiosity. What I found, interestingly enough, is that non-fiction and fiction both give this goal of pure knowledge, using different devices, and with very different results. Indeed, few other books have showed me the connection between the two like Life of Pi has, and, indeed, it has made me feel as enlightened as young Pi himself, who is almost my age during the tragic events of the story.
But what is the main difference, other than the obvious, between fiction and non-fiction, if they both achieve the same purpose? Truth be told, fiction such as this is the only form of literature that appeals to both the creative and logical fields of our mind--the imaginative and the scholarly. The pivotal importance of literature such as this is in the form of the result--the imprint it leaves on your mind. Whereas a knowledge book will allow you to look at an object and understand how it works, a fiction book will allow you to look at that thing and consider all of the possibilities and potential that that thing has beyond conventional understanding; it is simply more deep, more spiritual fulfilling, and as a result, more meaningful. What book achieves this in a greater way than Life of Pi? Keeping the truth of my limited knowledge of English literature aside, I will honestly say that no other book I have read has done this for me.
The book, to begin with, deals with the most primal and most complicated aspects of the human condition; the will to survive and the will to have faith, and intertwines them in a dazzling fashion. While doing this, it incorporates the psychology of animals in relation to us as well as in relation to themselves. Furthermore, it does it in a groundbreaking, post-modern style that combines humour juxtaposed with pure savagery derived from the will to survive. Pi, originally a vegetarian Hindu boy, keeps his native faith while adopting the Islamic and Christian faiths at the same time, and is then swept into the ocean with a 450-pound Bengal tiger. What could make for a better story? And what fact book what teach me about zoology, religion, and survival skills better than an engaging story that grips my attention? Surely the importance of this book has made it extremely important, even deserving of the term "classic", I might add. The book itself is wonderful, original, entertaining, and even educational, and this makes it that much more of a masterpiece in Canadian Literature. “This book goes where few books have gone before, bravely embarking on a metaphysical trek that explores the deepest of life's mysteries while remaining an exciting Ripley's-Believe-It-Or-Not style saga of a shipwreck victim's bizarre exigencies” (Foster, 2002).
In my effort to endorse this literary masterpiece, however, I must recognize that I am not the first to endorse it. Life of Pi has been the recipient of several awards, including the Man Booker Prize for Literature, the Hugh McLennan Prize for Fiction, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Eurasia region, for Best Book (Holcombe, 2004). And, although Yann Martel is primarily known for that single work, his other books, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios and Other Stories (1993),and Self (1996), though not commercially successful (they both sold little over 1000 copies), were the subject of critical acclaim as well. The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios won the Canadian Journey Prize, and Self won the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award (Holcombe, 2004). Rarely does a Canadian author receive such attention on the world stage, and this makes the book all the more important.
For being an original outlook on the themes of religion, animal behaviour and survival, and being from a previously underrated Canadian author, Life of Pi is an extremely important book that deserves to be recognized and acknowledged in the way it is today.