The High Mountains of Portugal
by Yann Martel

Overview - NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Fifteen years after The Life of Pi, Yann Martel is taking us on another long journey. Fans of his Man Booker Prize winning novel will recognize familiar themes from that seafaring phenomenon, but the itinerary in this imaginative new book is entirely fresh.  Read more...

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More About The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Fifteen years after The Life of Pi, Yann Martel is taking us on another long journey. Fans of his Man Booker Prize winning novel will recognize familiar themes from that seafaring phenomenon, but the itinerary in this imaginative new book is entirely fresh. . . . Martel s writing has never been more charming. Ron Charles, The Washington Post


In Lisbon in 1904, a young man named Tomas discovers an old journal. It hints at the existence of an extraordinary artifact that if he can find it would redefine history. Traveling in one of Europe s earliest automobiles, he sets out in search of this strange treasure.
Thirty-five years later, a Portuguese pathologist devoted to the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie finds himself at the center of a mystery of his own and drawn into the consequences of Tomas s quest.
Fifty years on, a Canadian senator takes refuge in his ancestral village in northern Portugal, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. But he arrives with an unusual companion: a chimpanzee. And there the century-old quest will come to an unexpected conclusion.
The High Mountains of Portugal part quest, part ghost story, part contemporary fable offers a haunting exploration of great love and great loss. Filled with tenderness, humor, and endless surprise, it takes the reader on a road trip through Portugal in the last century and through the human soul.
Praise for The High Mountains of Portugal
Just as ambitious, just as clever, just as existential and spiritual as Life of Pi] . . . a book that rewards your attention . . . an excellent book club choice. San Francisco Chronicle
There s no denying the simple pleasures to be had in The High Mountains of Portugal. Chicago Tribune
Charming . . . Most Martellian is the boundless capacity for parable. . . . Martel knows his strengths: passages about the chimpanzee and his owner brim irresistibly with affection and attentiveness. The New Yorker
A rich and rewarding experience . . . Martel] spins his magic thread of hope and despair, comedy and pathos. USA Today

I took away indelible images from High Mountains, enchanting and disturbing at the same time. . . . As whimsical as Martel s magic realism can be, grief informs every step of the book s three journeys. In the course of the novel we burrow ever further into the heart of an ape, pure and threatening at once, our precursor, ourselves. NPR
Refreshing, surprising and filled with sparkling moments of humor and insight. The Dallas Morning News
We re fortunate to have brilliant writers using their fiction to meditate on a paradox we need urgently to consider the unbridgeable gap and the unbreakable bond between human and animal, our impossible self-alienation from our world. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Guardian
Martel packs] his inventive novel with beguiling ideas. What connects an inept curator to a haunted pathologist to a smitten politician across more than seventy-five years is the author s ability to conjure up something uncanny at the end. The Boston Globe
A fine home, and story, in which to find oneself. Minneapolis Star Tribune"

  • ISBN-13: 9780812997170
  • ISBN-10: 0812997174
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
  • Publish Date: February 2016
  • Page Count: 332
  • Dimensions: 1 x 5.75 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.05 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Historical - General
Books > Fiction > Literary

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2015-12-14
  • Reviewer: Staff

An Iberian rhinoceros, two chimpanzees, three dead wives, and two dead toddlers all figure in this highly imaginative novel. Martels narrative wizardry connects three novellas set seven decades apart in the eponymous region of Portugal. In the first section, titled Homeless and set in 1904, Tomás Lobo, a young resident of Lisbon whose wife and son have died, begins to walk backward to face the uncertainty of the future, since everything he cherished in life has been taken away. Though he has lost his religious faith, he vows to find a strange and marvelous crucifix that resembles a chimpanzee in a church in the tiny village of Tuizelo. His quest goes awry in highly comic ways: an episode that finds him naked in a meadow rubbing lice powder over his body rivals the hilarious meerkat scene in Martels Life of Pi. Characters from Tuizelo figure in the second section, Homeward, set in 1938. A pathologist receives a visit from his dead wife and later discovers a dead chimpanzee curled in the body of a man on whom he does an autopsy. Martel handles this improbable scene with convincing magical realism. Home, the third section, is set in 1981 Canada, where a politician mourning his dead wife impulsively buys a chimpanzee called Odo and travels to Tuizelo, where he was born. His grief is assuaged and his faith is restored by the ancient crucifix and the simple pleasures of country life. Martel is in a class by himself in acknowledging the tragic vicissitudes of life while celebrating wildly ridiculous contretemps that bring levity to the mystery of existence. (Feb.)

BookPage Reviews

The timeless, shared experience of grief

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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