When it comes to fiction—in print or in film—I vigorously avoid reading reviews, or even summaries of the story, because I want the author to have the full pleasure of unfolding his tale to me personally. That’s been a very difficult practice to maintain with the book I finally decided to read this weekend: Life of Pi by Yann Martel.
I bought the book so long ago, the page edges have yellowed ever so slightly. I skipped seeing it in the theaters because I much prefer to read a story first. But the movie keeps creeping up higher in my Netflix queue, so I rescued it from my “frivolous” to-read pile (as opposed to the variously sorted to-read piles of “the great books,” “scholarly studies,” “popular political writings” and the extremely dusty “beginning Latin”). I wish I hadn’t waited so long.
I’m barely a quarter of the way through it, just been introduced to the various characters and themes, but so far, I’m finding it very conservative in an oddly quirky, Tea Party-ish kind of way. (Religious conservatives of a fundamentalist or orthodox nature might be off-put by Pi’s pantheism—devoutly practicing Christianity, Islam and Hinduism, simultaneously, to the dismay of his priest, imam and pandit and the bemusement of his nonreligious parents, all to whom he explains he just wants to love God. But the manner in which Martel writes about religion through the eyes of Pi is very respectful, espousing fundamental beliefs and heralding Pi’s wish to be religious even in the face of mockery and attempts to stop him.)
This surprises me because, even though I haven’t read all the glorious reviews of the book and film, I know most of them had to have been written by liberals. That makes me trepidacious that later in the book, suddenly Pi is going to reject religion and go on a tirade against it. How else could liberals love it? But then the book starts with the warning that the tale “will make you believe in God.” So I read on to get to the bottom of this perplexing mystery.
But it’s not just in the area of religion that I find the book to have conservative tendencies, but also in political philosophy about capitalism. It’s here that I came to a passage that I just had to stop and record.
Pi’s father runs a small zoo in India. While not politically active, he is no fan of Indira Ghandi’s socialist policies, and when she began her harsh crackdown and ruling by decree, he had enough. He decided to uproot his family and business and move to Canada. Martel sums up his rationale beautifully:
People move because of the wear and tear of anxiety. Because of the gnawing feeling that no matter how hard they work their efforts will yield nothing, that what they build up in one year will be torn down in one day by others. Because of the impression that the future is blocked up, that they might do all right but not their children. Because of the feeling that nothing will change, that happiness and prosperity are possible only somewhere else.
He’s writing about India in the 1970s, but it’s amazing how apt that description is for so many people across America today in the 2010s. For some in states like California and Maryland, where the governments are determined to soak the money makers and businesses to fund their progressive folly, they have the freer states to which they can flee.
But when looked at from a national perspective, as our government tightens the yoke on its productive citizens and progressives howl for even more government control, where can the anxious move? As America is transformed into a second-rate European socialist barnacle on the Earth, where is that “somewhere else” where happiness and prosperity are possible?