The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel (3 Stars)


There are three novellas making up this book, centered around the High Mountains of Portugal. For the life of me, I cannot tell you why I continued to read this book. It took me about 6 months. I loved The Life of Pi, and heard an interview with Yann Martel. Ironically, the book sat on my shelf until I had a large block of time to savor the writing.  It would return to the shelf again and again, until I felt I had the wherewithal to tackle it again.

Novella No. 1, Homeless, is the story of Tomás, who walks backwards after the death of his wife and child. He borrows a car to search for an artifact which would change history. This was tedious reading of pages and pages of description about the car, about driving where there are no roads (early 1900’s), camping in the wilderness. Nevertheless, I persevered, perhaps only because I really enjoyed the writing style and had to see if Tomás was going to come out of this alive (no spoilers, but Tomás is a bit of a klutz even when not walking backward). While trying to make sense of all the imagery and symbolism, I kept rereading sections, thinking somehow I was missing the big picture.

After a hiatus of a few months, I started on Novella No. 2, Homeward. This was nothing if not bizarre. A woman, from the High Mountains of Portugal, brings her husband’s body to a pathologist in order for him to tell her how he lived. His body is full of strange things, and I challenged myself to suspend belief and continue reading, hoping that something would connect. The story ends and, again, the big picture was beyond my comprehension.

So, a few months later, on to Novella No. 3, Home. This also takes place in the High Mountains of Portugal, and connects the three novellas together. This is the story of Peter, a Canadian senator, who adopts an ape after his wife passes away. He and Odo, the ape, move to, you guessed it, the High Mountains of Portugal, where his family roots are.

The beautiful writing does draw you in, makes you think, but there are no answers to what any of it means. After the third story, I thought perhaps happiness is where you find it, and we should live in the moment. Too simplistic, I think. Other reviewers have given faith as the story line, but I didn’t see that. The other is how people deal with grief, as each of the central characters lost someone they loved which sent them on a quest (an artifact, answers, peace).

Perhaps this needs to be read in pieces and discussed with a book club. If anyone has any insight to share, I would love to hear your views!


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