The High Mountains of Portugal
I never managed to get into Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, so when I was given the chance to read his latest offering, The High Mountains of Portugal, I thought perhaps this might be a chance to start over with Martel.
The High Mountains of Portugal consists of three intertwined stories. Each of the central characters has loved and lost, and is looking for meaning in their new solitary lives.
In 1904 Tomás is grieving the deaths of his lover and son. He expresses his resentment towards God by literally turning his back on him – and walking backwards. Borrowing a motor vehicle – considered a wondrous innovation at the time – he makes his way to the high mountains of Portugal in search of a crucifix he has read about in an old journal, with disastrous consequences.
Thirty-five years later, a pathologist works long hours in his surgery, where he receives two surprise visitors. The first is his wife, with whom he has a lengthy conversation about religion and Agatha Christie novels. The second is a woman from the high mountains of Portugal who seeks an autopsy on her husband with surprising results.
The final story was the most moving. On a business trip, a widowed Canadian senator befriends a chimpanzee. Despite knowing how mad and impetuous it seems, he leaves his old life behind to live with his new companion in the high mountains of Portugal.
Meaning comes to these characters in unexpected ways, much like the high mountains of Portugal themselves, which are really only gently undulating hills.
Touching, funny and insightful, The High Mountains of Portugal is a beautiful book, more accessible than Life of Pi but still full of magic.
Five stars – Text $29.99
Reviewed by Lauren Cook