I am a person who believes in form, in the harmony of order. Where we can, we must give things a meaningful shape. For example—I wonder—could you tell my jumbled story in exactly one hundred chapters, not one more, not one less?
Pi's story does indeed play out in a hundred chapters, but only through some small element of cheating. Several chapters are just a couple of paragraphs long. One is just two words. Chapter breaks come almost arbitrarily, the next chapter continuing on the same subject. Across thirteen chapters Pi embraces Hinduism, Catholicism and Islam, reflects upon the nature of the divine, how atheists and agnostics view the world, the reaction when it was discovered he was following three separate religions, his request to continue with multiple religions, his parents' verdict, and the result of that verdict. It's not really thirteen chapters' worth of story.
It sounds like a small complaint and in many ways it is, but I like my chapters to be meaty chunks of narrative that advance the story, so for me the book had a very stop-start feel to it, chapters not providing that break or advancement that I expected. It was only upon reading the above quote, which comes right near the end of the book, that the reason for that structure was explained, though I didn't feel it was justified for that.
Niggling issues with structure aside, The Life of Pi is presented as the autobiographical account of the fictional and extraordinary Piscine Molitor Patel. It opens with his early life in India as the son of a zookeeper, detailing what he learns about people, animals and faith, before the political situation encourages his family to take their animals across the Pacific and into Canada. The bulk of the story focuses on Pi being cast away on a lifeboat with only the tiger Richard Parker for company, and the highs and lows that come from a journey that ends with him being the longest-surviving person ever to be shipwrecked.
I was so full of trust in them that I felt grateful as they carried me in the air. Only when they threw me overboard did I begin to have doubts.
That latter fact is revealed early on, there's no mystery to whether Pi survives. The story is Pi's account of that survival, told years later with all the comfort that distance provides. Pi's funny, conversational, easy-going style keeps it from being a harrowing tale of his ordeal, for that's not the aim. It's a story of hope, of perseverance, of companionship in hard times, of finding beauty in the darkest moments, and of faith.
Faith is of particular importance to Pi, whose love of his god is so great that he can't even contain himself to one religion. As an atheist myself I inevitably bounced off a lot of these moments, especially when Pi tries to explain atheism and agnosticism and gets them wrong. Pi's experiences on the lifeboat contain more suffering that most people will experience in a lifetime, and at no time does his god provide any relief. At one low point in his ordeal Pi even says:
But God’s hat was always unravelling. God’s pants were falling apart. God’s cat was a constant danger. God’s ark was a jail. God’s wide acres were slowly killing me. God’s ear didn't seem to be listening. Despair was a heavy blackness that let no light in or out. It was a hell beyond expression.
It seems like he could be just about to make the obvious next conclusion, that God's ear no more exists than the rest of God, but then the above sentences are immediately followed with:
I thank God it always passed. A school of fish appeared around the net or a knot cried out to be reknotted. Or I thought of my family, of how they were spared this terrible agony. The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. I would go on loving.
There's nothing wrong with finding comfort in anything you can, of course, not when the situation is so dire, I just found it disappointing that Pi repeatedly took paths that I not only view as wrong, but genuinely beyond my comprehension. Pi's position is that truth is ultimately irrelevant if the outcome is the same, and it's better then to believe beautiful, comforting lies than just accept reality for all it's mix of beauty of ugliness.
Pi's faith is nothing to condemn him for though, and doesn't in any way detract from the fact that he's an incredible human being. Dumped into one of the worst situations imaginable, he embarks on an epic journey of survival, soldiers on where others would disappear into despair, and lives to tell a unique, funny, moving and memorable story.
Am in lifeboat. Pi Patel my name. Have some food, some water, but Bengal tiger a serious problem.
Rosemary's Baby is a creepy story, thanks primarily to how happy Rosemary remains for most of the book. She has the perfect apartment with her loving...moreRosemary's Baby is a creepy story, thanks primarily to how happy Rosemary remains for most of the book. She has the perfect apartment with her loving husband who is on the cusp of his acting career taking off, all of her neighbours are so friendly and helpful, and, above all else, she is pregnant with the baby that her husband has only just decided he wants to have, with one of the best doctors in the city to see her through the pregnancy. Sure, there are some weird events around the building and the neighbours occasionally do some odd things, but all in all things couldn't be much more perfect for her.
As the reader you can see what Rosemary does not. You know why the apartment was recently vacated, you know why her husband's career and attitudes have taken a sudden turn, you know why the neighbours are always eager to pop by, taking the place of her existing friends and always bringing specially-prepared food and drinks, you know why the doctor gives the advice that he does, and you know why the pregnancy proceeds in an unusual way.
Rosemary isn't oblivious so much as she's just sensible. Whenever she starts to feel like something is off there is always somebody to make her believe she's being irrational or ridiculous, whenever her old friends grow alarmed or suspicious circumstances always manage to create distance between them and Rosemary, and mostly she doesn't want to believe the truth because it would be so horrible and fantastical. When the truth makes less sense than the lie it's so much easier to accept the lie.
When the end does come it's horrifying and terrible in its implications, but there are no maniacal villains, no snarling monsters or great battles. There are just seemingly-normal, reasonable people doing abnormal, horrible things. They could be anybody, and that's very unsettling.(less)
As the name suggests, sadness is an enduring theme of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. It's about a girl named Rose who, just as she is turning n...moreAs the name suggests, sadness is an enduring theme of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. It's about a girl named Rose who, just as she is turning nine years old, is suddenly able to taste in food the emotions of the person who prepared it. She makes the discovery upon eating the titular lemon cake, lovingly prepared by her mother, but so full of sadness and dissatisfaction that Rose can't even pretend to enjoy it.
Many kids, it seemed, would find out that their parents were flawed, messed-up people later in life, and I didn't appreciate getting to know it all so strong and early.
Food becomes a minefield, exposing Rose to the emotions everybody is trying to hide. The sadness of openly happy people, the rage of the quiet ones and, above all others, her mother's desperate need for something to fulfil her. Rose learns early on that she can't explain what is happening to her and finds solace in junk food, snacks and other heavily-processed items, where the human involvement is distant and minimal.
The story jumps around a little but progresses steadily forward in time, as Rose tries to avoid her ability and just exist with her family. Her mother flits from project to project until she finds something that can fill that emptiness within her, and fawns over Rose's older brother, Joseph. Joseph is brilliant but can't connect with people, shutting himself away physically and emotionally. Her father, a man who seemed to approach having a family as a life event to tick off his list, has no way to truly communicate with any of them.
The best way I can describe it is just that my father was a fairly focused man, a smart one with a core of simplicity who had ended up with three highly complicated people sharing the household with him: a wife who seemed raw with loneliness, a son whose gaze was so unsettling people had to shove cereal boxes at him to get a break, and a daughter who couldn't even eat a regular school lunch without having to take a fifteen-minute walk to recover. Who were these people?
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is not a story about powers (there are large portions of the book where Rose's ability is mostly irrelevant), not of some grand revelation about where the ability comes from or some fated event where everything comes together. Rose's ability is a means for her to truly see people and to understand that everybody is hiding their real feelings, including herself, and ultimately to realise that knowing the truth doesn't really enable her to do anything about it. People hide their true feelings even from themselves, and have to work things out in their own way, or they'll never get help. That's particularly sad.(less)
The Lullaby of Polish Girls offers three different views of growing up Polish. Anna's family fled Poland when she was young and started a new life in...moreThe Lullaby of Polish Girls offers three different views of growing up Polish. Anna's family fled Poland when she was young and started a new life in America, so she only experiences her hometown of Kielce in brief summer visits during the 1990s, where she forms lasting friendships with Kamila and Justyna, but spends most of her time in the U.S. pursuing her acting dream. Kamila is insecure, envious of the other two for their confidence or their beauty, but remains ever-optimistic that she'll eventually get all the things she deserves (particularly the affections of her crush, Emil). Justyna is the cynic of the trio, ever ready to be brutally honest about how she perceives things or even to sabotage things for her friends if it ultimately serves her own interests.
The book presents their teen lives in flashbacks, the other half looking at their lives in the present of 2002. Anna's career is reaching crisis point just as her relationship with the American Ben is falling apart, Kamila is still reeling from the revelation that Emil (who she has since married) is actually gay, and Justyna has just suffered a fresh tragedy in a life she already barely had control of.
To an extent then it's almost six short stories that all form the parts of one larger one, three main characters each with their own present-day and flashback chapters, no character or story getting more attention than the others. Dagmara Dominczyk sprinkles Polish phrases liberally through the story, either simply using them when their meaning is obvious without a translation, or immediately translating it quite naturally within the text itself.
‘I can’t wait for next summer. You’ll be my girlfriend.’ Anna gasps quietly into his neck. She will not forget his words: Będziesz moją dziewczyną.
‘And you’re rubbing yourself while you think about her? What, are you a lezbijka, you little perv?’
Ultimately it's a story about the comfort of friendship, how three women reach the lowest points of their lives but are able to find strength in people they've not spoken to in years, because that sort of friendship transcends time. They can argue and even fall out, but when things get really bad they'll always be there for one another. It adds an air of optimism to what is otherwise three sad stories of people suddenly finding their lives slipping out of their control in ways they never could have foreseen, and which they would have been unable to cope with if they had to try and go through it alone.(less)