'Life of Pi' author defends zoos, decries life based on doubt

'Life of Pi,' Yann Martel's tall tale about an Indian boy and a Bengal tiger adrift in a lifeboat, has captured readers' imaginations with its witty, thought-provoking prose.

Martel, who recently earned the 2002 Man Booker Prize, Britain's top literary honor, for the best-selling novel about a highly improbable scenario, appears for the Portland Arts & Lectures series. He spoke to the Trib-une from his home in Toronto.

Tribune: 'Life of Pi' addresses several religions and their views of the big picture. Given the mess that the world's in now, do you think that much of the book's success can be attributed to people looking for deeper truths?

Martel: The book seems topical now, but I finished 'Life of Pi' months before 9-11, and I don't flatter myself in thinking that people throw themselves into it because of Osama bin Laden. I think it's more that the book speaks on issues of animals and spirituality things that interest people.

At the time, I was writing a book that defended zoos, and zoos are terribly unpopular nowadays. I also take religion seriously, and religion is also an unpopular topic among those who read novels. So you see, I thought I was writing a good book that no one would read. Now I seem to be quite wrong, and I'm happy about that.

Tribune: You also pre-sent a convincing case for the existence of zoos. Have you received much flak for taking that position?

Martel: So far I haven't been criticized. I'll agree with these people if they're talking about bad zoos, but a good zoo that is, with good enclosures plays an important role in our society; it's like an urban frontier for the wild. It establishes a connection between us and nature. As it is, we live in such an urbanized society. If we didn't have zoos, people wouldn't be aware of wildlife. It would be 'out of sight, out of mind,' and that increases the chances of unwitting destruction of the environment.

Tribune: A character in the book says this about religion: 'To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.' Tell me a little more about what this means to you.

Martel: I think that doubt is the only position that's tenable logically, but I think that existentially, it's unbearable. I think that the good life is where you make decisions: Either you love someone, or you don't. Either you believe that Elvis is alive, or you don't.

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