Book Review: Life of Pi

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Sometimes in life, you’re lucky enough to stumble upon a sign, a small token which made you realized how much you’ve changed. A book is a perfect small token, something unchanged by time, and yet, I, the reader, might change.

The first time I read this book, in 2007, I was simply unmoved. I remembered being fascinated by the story of the zoo animals, but nothing more. I was bored the minute Pi was in the water. I didn’t really get the “magical” part of the adventure (I still didn’t get that much of it now, but I like the book in a different way, so it’s perfectly alright).

This time, I found something about it. Something that resonates with me. Not so much about the mood I was in when I was reading the book, but more of my standing point. I like Pi more. I like how observant he is with the zoo animals, and I love how he would embrace religions without judging them. In a story where the main character is so dominant, I found I have to love them in order to want to read the whole book.

The Review: Life of Pi – Yann Martel
There are many ways to describe the story. Some said it was a proof of finding God, restoring the faith to God, some said it was a magical journey. I chose to view it as a survival adventure, and a very compelling and colorful one at that.

Pi Patel, the main character, was an unusual boy. He was the second son of a zoo owner, an avid observer of animals, and someone who was fascinated by God and religion (in fact, he took up three at once: Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam).

The story started in Pondicherry, India, giving a lush description of the fragrant life there. It was all good until one day the father decided they were to move to Canada, along with some animals on a big cargo ship. We all know what happened. On a stormy night, the ship sank. Leaving Pi as the only human on a lifeboat.

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This part down you might not want to read if you haven’t read the book. It’s not much of a spoiler, because we already know what happened anyways, but you might want to have your opinion first before reading mine.
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If this book had a main character of a straight forward, rational, National Geographic-y adventurer, then it wouldn’t be half as interesting. But we’re talking about a boy who was used to so many colors, smells, and people. The sea was vast, food and water were scarce, and his only company was a bengal tiger. (PS: I absolutely love the part where he discovered the joy of Norwegian biscuits 😀 )

The interesting part was, Pi was never mentioned as a storyteller, a fiction writer. So when he told his story of survival, you would believe him. Until the end, when he told another version of the story. A more realistic one, perhaps, because it consisted humans rather than animals. Then you’d wonder if Pi had made it up all along. True, he was not a writer. But on the other hand, he loves religious, metaphorical stories. So, was it possible? That all of his journey, the creatures he encountered and the survival was also metaphorical?

I guess, for me, that was why I like this book a whole lot more this time around. The vagueness with a hint on reality of it made it a more compelling story after I chose to see it as it is. It is a great journey. And sometimes, in order to make life more interesting, you just need to add a tiger so you would focus on the more important things instead of worrying about that small tore in your clothes.

Would I recommend this book? Wholeheartedly yes. Unless you’re looking for romance, because there’s absolutely none in here. Also I have a hunch the movie would be even better than the book (which is rare). I’ll be looking forward to it in the next days!

When Pigs Have Wings | Das Schwein Von Gaza

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2011, Sylvain Estibal (Director/Writer), Sasson Gabai (Jafaar), Baya Belal (Fatime), Myriam Tekaia (Yelena)

There are movies that made me thought: I want to write something like that. I want to be a storyteller. I realized it’s not really something about the book being monetarily successful (although I wouldn’t say no to it) but for it’s about always see things positively throughout life. I believe, at the core of our being, no matter how hard the moment seemed to be, there is always a light. With humor.

The story itself is about Jafaar, a poor fisherman living in Gaza. He was quite unlucky with his situation. Only small fishes got caught in his net, his house is used by Israeli patrol, and he owes quite a lot of money. With other fishermans, finding a coffee cup in their net is a huge thing, something you can give your wife as a gift. Even two right flipflops are good. He, on the other hand, caught a pig in his net.

A pig is a big problem because Jafaar, as a moslem, is forbidden to have anything to do with a pig. He can’t even touch it, let alone use it for a meal. Even more problem, the Jews considered it the same. So how could he get rid of a 50 kg pig? Since Jafaar desperately needed money, he tried every possible person who might want to eat “big”. He went to the UN western officer, but the officer didn’t want a living pig either. He tried to kill it, but couldn’t bring himself to do it.

What happened next was some hilarious scenes involving Miss Piggy, Brazilian telenovela, and a corrupted police (separately, of course). There were awkward starts of friendships between an Israeli soldier, Yelena (an Israeli pig breeder – an exception), Jafaar, and Fatime (Jafaar’s wife). And of course, there were some very real issues with the conflict in Gaza, which made the film felt real.

The film, however, decided to tell everything in a positive and humorous light. For me, this is great, but I know it takes an even greater courage to be able to laugh in a quite dire situation.

I love this film. It gives hope. Hope that when people set aside what had been brainwashed in their head, and start seeing the world with love without prejudice, our blood is truly the same. We are humans, after all.

Berlinale 2012 | Kebun Binatang (Postcards from the Zoo)

Last weekend was our Berlinale time. The whole film festival took place on 9-19 February 2012, but the ones we would like to see just happens to be on that last weekend. Ten films (five of them are shorts) in three days, spanning eight countries and six languages. It’s quite a lot to digest, which was why I’m only able to write down my thoughts today.

The one movie I was really looking forward to see is “Kebun Binatang” (Postcards from the Zoo). It’s the first Indonesian movie to compete for the Berlinale award, and it made me feel somewhat proud of being Indonesian (even though I had nothing to do with the movie :D).

Postcards from the Zoo

Postcards from the Zoo

Postcards from the Zoo tells a story about Lana (Ladya Cheryl), a young woman who spent almost all of her life in the zoo. Her father left her there when she was four, and then she was adopted by it*. The story fast forwards to the adult Lana, who becomes one with the zoo and dreams of touching the giraffe’s belly someday. She is so in tune with the animals, being friends with all the workers there, and just sort of everything doer. One day, Lana starts seeing this young cowboy (Nicolas Saputra) in the zoo.  She wonders if he was even real at all. But as her zoo life starts falling apart, she decides to go out of the zoo and follow him instead. Where would she end up? Would she be able to fulfill her dream?

*** Warning! The review may contain SPOILERS ***

This film is all about metaphors and it’s one of those that gave me a “The Emperor’s New Clothes” effect. I don’t think I get all of the metaphors, but I kept thinking whether it was just my limited imaginations, should I try harder? Or maybe I could just pretend I understand everything?

Well, I’m going to be honest, and I will tell you my thoughts about it. Whether I might or might not truly get the movie.

The good points are I appreciate its breaking out of the common norm in Indonesian movies. It’s quite bizarre in its storytelling and honest in some other parts (not trying to teach you some moral grounds or being politically correct or anything like that).

I also quite like the use of metaphors in Lana’s life as the stages of animals in the zoo: captivity, reintroducing to the natural habitat, and so on. It gives you the whole general view about what the story is all about. Lana was just like an animal there, being in captivity all of her life, she might just lose her ability to be a free person.

What I’m confused about is the many shots of the zoo. When things are told in metaphors, shouldn’t everything have a meaning? Or would it be okay for some to not make sense? I could only understand the connection with the giraffe. The tiger and hippos kind of confused me… there is some connection but it felt forced, not as well thought as the others. The rollercoaster and other attractions just seemed too random… and even though it does give some sense of ambience, I found that it felt like it’s weighing the story down.

Lana’s character is also come across as very detached. I couldn’t feel any emotional connection with her, not sympathizing with her. She seemed to be narrating her own story from the outside. Not that it’s a bad thing, it just feels weird. I’m actually hoping this is intentional, because I found Ladya Cheryl portrayed this part very well.

I felt rather disappointed with the ending, because even though it does answer some questions, it doesn’t resolve things. Although to the film’s defense, it’s a festival film, which means this kind of alternative ending is quite common.

All in all, the film gave me a strange feeling of curious confusion. Did Luna really experience all this? Were she just living a sad life and trying to escape in her imagination?

Verdict: Is it worth watching? YES. But keep an open mind. If you have a different point of view after watching this, or if you think I’m missing something, please feel free to leave a comment or contradict me.

* Yes, I meant the zoo. Everything in it, including the people, animals, and attractions.

 

Book Review: Norwegian Wood

Norwegian WoodNorwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One thing I love about this book is how Murakami managed to describe even the most trivial little things and make it very interesting to read. I wish I will be able to do that someday!

Now on to the plot, I don’t think there’s much of plot going on there… Yes, there’s a love story between Toru Watanabe (the main character) and two girls. How did that evolve to a whole book with a whole lot of descriptions on many random things? It’s Murakami’s brilliance. The book would draw you into reading more and more of it. Such a master storyteller.

The story kind of makes me wonder though, is suicide that common in Japan? It seemed that many of this issue showed up in the TV series I watched.

I’m not sure whom I will recommend this book for. If you’re a romance lover, I don’t think this is a typical story, not to mention it’s kind of twisted. It is very interesting to read, though. I haven’t read other Murakami novels (except for the running biography and his short stories collection) so I couldn’t say how this is compared to other novels.

Oh, I think I’m going to pick up more of Murakami in the future. Any recommendations?

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Book Review: Juliet

JulietJuliet by Anne Fortier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book when I was looking for a good romance book. It tells a new take on Romeo and Juliet, sets in Siena, present time and 14th century time. Perfect.

In general, I like it and I enjoyed reading it. I like how detailed the setting going into 14th century Siena, the characterizations, and how the author played with Romeo and Juliet inspiration. The storytelling and the going back and forth between two stories are done beautifully.

There are some elements I’m not so keen of. Other reviewers mentioned the cheesiness in some parts, and I have to agree with them. Somehow I was hoping with the brilliance the author showed me in describing the settings, she will also gave me unexpected twists in the story. Not true, but it’s okay, I like the book anyways 🙂

I would recommend this book if you like romance with a little bit of mystery and suspense twists. Big points if you happen to love Italy as well, then this book is a MUST READ for you.

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