One hero, three religions in a modern moral fable

The worldwide success of Yann Martel’s novel «Life of Pi,» may be due to the fact that it goes against the trend of much contemporary literature. «I like to move like an arrow and not like a spiral,» says Martel, who likes to find out about what’s going on in the world, and not just concentrate on himself. Martel, 39, a Canadian and a native speaker of French, wrote his moral fable of a boy and a tiger set in India in English. It is a postmodern version of «Robinson Crusoe» («Yes, but my book is better,» he says, his wide smile showing white teeth) or the story of Noah’s Ark («Yes, but here there is a stronger scientific basis»). Psychogios has published a Greek translation of «Life of Pi» by Belikas Koumbarelis. When his book won the 2002 Man Booker Prize, the little-known writer was catapulted to fame. He had to change a trip to Athens into a lightning visit so he could accept an invitation to appear live in New York. Going practically without sleep, he wedged in 36 hours in Athens between Montreal and New York, but lost none of his dynamism in the process. Martel has a healthy romanticism, and an anti-capitalistic outlook devoid of shrillness or fondness for condemnation. «I don’t moralize,» he says. «I simply wrote a book with a different moral view about religion, science and freedom.» In the book, the hero Pi experiences three religions at once – Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. «It is a kaleidoscope of self-knowledge, of the deep essence of human existence. In the West, we are busy from morning till night, and don’t pause even for a moment to reflect. We have freedom, but how consciously free are we?» Martel interweaves archetypal, almost biblical, symbols (a zoo, an ocean). «Life is greater than what we experience, and the key is imagination,» he asserts. «You have to go beyond yourself from time to time, and weigh up different viewpoints.» Martel himself is cosmopolitan. He lived for a long time in India and has traveled the world, but does not forget his origins. He attributes to his Western education his ability to move freely through different cultures. «You can’t just take what you want and say that it is you. I like India, but I’m not Indian. I’m grounded in my language. I’m proud to be Canadian and to belong to an open society. I have a solid foundation and I’m just testing my limits.» Morality is the wellspring of his fiction, including his latest novel. «It is a parable about an ape and a donkey that travel together. Without mentioning Hitler and the Jews, it is an allegory of the Holocaust, which I’m afraid has been debased into a dry historical event without the human aspect.» Investigating fear is another way of approaching the power of faith, outside any religious system. For Martel, living consciously and meaningfully as a human being is not something that happens automatically, and there are many ways of calling this to mind.