*painting by Tomer Hanuka*Did you know that the term 'Robinsonade' was coined to describe a work of fiction similar to Daniel Defoe's 1719 English novel, Robinson Crusoe?
Come to think of it, I never would have had I not completed Yann Martel's imaginative novel, Life of Pi, the story a young Indian boy name Pi Patel. When Pi's family decides to sell their zoo in Pondicherry, India and emigrate to Canada, Pi is thrilled by the wealth of possibility for new experiences and adventure. Though Pi is a devout Hindu (and an equal adherent to Christianity and Islam), no faith prevents the tragedy of his family's ship sinking to the bottom of the Pacific as it chugs towards Canada, pulling into the ocean with it Pi's family, their remaining animals, and everything he knew of his Indian home. Now, castaway in a lifeboat, his only companion a starving and malaised Bengal tiger, Pi must rely not only on the visceral instincts of survival, but also his unwavering faith in God.
Stranded in a circumference of horizon, Pi is subject to a world that he'd never imagined - from applying the knowledge absorbed from an upbringing around wild animals, to renouncing his strict vegetarian diet to feast upon the blood, brains and bellies of sea turtles and fish - a world that only expands as his life seems so hopelessly condensed. Contrary to what I would feel under the weight of such hopelessness, Pi reflects upon the rishi Markandeya, who "fell out of Vishnu's mouth while Vishnu was sleeping and so beheld the entire universe, everything that there is." Though Pi may have been abandoned by the world of men, he never felt abandoned by its God. Here, it is interesting to note that the Japanese cargo ship on which Pi had been traveling is named Tzimzum, which, as I understand, is a Hebrew term used in Qabalistic texts to describe the method by which God's power begins its creative descent to the material world.
Initially, one would think that 319 pages were far too many to describe the 227 days survived at sea by one boy and a Bengal tiger - perhaps even 318 too many. However, it was my delight to find that Mr. Martel did not waste one word in excess, each sentence flowing with a near poetry to match the myriad hue of a life lived at sea, and the prism color of faith, misery, hope, and exaltation. Life of Pi has been the first book in some time that I've actually tried to finish in one sitting, if only because I couldn't bear to put it down.
Would I consider Life of Pi to be Robinsonade in its telling? Both Crusoe and Pi are castaways, but I think that its fair to end the comparison there. While the former exists as an allegorical representation of European conquest and was eventually led to God, Pi's faith in The Lord of The Universe was ever-present. Part of me believes that it was his sincere desire to know God that delivered him into the swell of the ocean's benevolent hostility, and though he did not initially comprehend why, the time to look closely - at himself, the world, and our relationship to all life within it.
Life of Pi gave me something more than I've gotten out of many books of late, apart from an ending that not only satisfied, but left me with further questions. Pi Patel gave me a reason to continue having faith, and to search for those answers - to know that all things, no matter how insignificantly small or incomprehensibly vast - are intricately woven together with equal love within the mind of God.