STARRED REVIEW
February 2016

The timeless, shared experience of grief

By Yann Martel
The latest novel from the bestselling author of Life of Pi, Yann Martel, is a story told in three parts, featuring three men, each dealing with the loss of a loved one.
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The latest novel from the bestselling author of Life of Pi, Yann Martel, is a story told in three parts, featuring three men, each dealing with the loss of a loved one. 

We start in the early 1900s in Lisbon, where Tomás grapples with the unexpected loss of his lover and their son by deciding to walk only backwards as a show of contempt for God. Stranger still is his mission to use his rich uncle’s automobile to find a treasure that he believes will forever shake faith in Christianity, furthering his defiance of heaven. These heavy themes of death and religion are lightened by humorous (sometimes laugh out loud) depictions of the results of Tomás’ backward motion, as well as his utter ineptitude with the car.

In the second section, set 35 years later, we meet Dr. Eusebio Lozora, a pathologist. This fan of Agatha Christie murder mysteries finds himself performing an equally riveting medical autopsy that is somehow linked to Tomás’ tragedy. Grief is the main theme here, which Martel skillfully uses to challenge all of the doctor’s scientific knowledge. 

In the final section, another 50 years have passed. In Ontario, Canada, we meet Senator Peter Tovy, who is falling to pieces personally and professionally after the loss of his beloved wife. An unusual and unexpected course of action makes him the owner of a chimpanzee, Odo, with whom he decides to live in his ancestral village in the high mountains of Portugal. There, history reveals itself with time, decisively connecting the three parts of the novel. 

After such a gripping and detailed narrative, the final conclusion seems a little too sudden and unanticipated. Even so, The High Mountains of Portugal doesn’t disappoint in its twists and turns, which leave the reader working like a detective to connect all the dots. Filled with humor, sadness, love and adventure, it’s a perfect balance for those who want a feel-good book that still provides an insight into the human psyche.

 

This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The High Mountains of Portugal

The High Mountains of Portugal

By Yann Martel
Spiegel & Grau
ISBN 9780812997170

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