BY SHIMANA BOSE —
Yann Martel’s newest novel is story of imagination, grief, humanity
From the award winning author of Life of Pi, Spanish-born Canadian author, Yann Martel, comes another amazing story of humor, imagination and grief: The High Mountains of Portugal. While it contains similar themes to Life of Pi, Portugal contains a fresh and imaginative look completely different from Martel’s previous novels.
Portugal is Martel’s latest novel, just released this February. The novel consists of three shorter novellas that intertwine into one greater story as each individual story complements the others.
The first and longest story begins in Lisbon in 1904, with the introduction of a young man, Tomás as he mourns the deaths of his wife and son. When Tomás finds the journal of a 17th century priest who assisted slaves, Tomás finds that his own grief is synonymous and begins a journey to find an artifact that may help him seek his revenge on God, and “redefine” history.
While surrounded by death and darkness, Martel lightens Tomás’s pain and his heavy atmosphere with flickers of humor and slapstick comedy. The atmosphere continuously lightens as Tomás borrows his uncle’s automobile, and becomes an symbol of wonder as he travels across Portugal in search of the mysterious artifact mentioned in the journal.
The saga continues as the tale moves ahead 35 years into the future, in the 1930’s to meet another character in mourning. We find a Portuguese pathologist and avid fan of Agatha Christie, Dr. Lozora, in grief over the death of his wife. However, another level of depth is added to the story when the wife comes back as a talkative ghost.
Our pathologist creates a mystery of his own, and is sucked into a world of ghostly enigmas and the remnants of Tomás’s quest. In this story, Dr. Lozora and his phantasmal wife discuss and compare the meaning of the Gospels to Agatha Christie’s works, comparing themes that can be found in Martel’s other works.
Unlike the first story of adventure, Martel brings an entire story out of one night in Dr. Lozora’s office during an autopsy, with less humor and touches more on serious themes and ideas, such as fiction as the tools of truth. The conversation becomes an allegory surrounding death, sorrow and the true meaning of the human soul.
Martel continues his narrative of sorrow and grief in the final, and in my opinion, most moving story, that takes place decades later. Fifty years after Dr. Lozora’s conversation with his ghostly wife, a Canadian senator, Peter Tovy, returns to Portugal after the death of his wife.
In a combination of themes found in the previous tales, Martel intertwines and combines them to form the most powerful and heartfelt of stories of how Tovy overcomes his depression and grief. In his overwhelming misery and sorrow, Tovy retreats from his friends, job and previous home into a dark vortex of his despair and loneliness. However, in his escape, he visits a chimpanzee refuge in Oklahoma, where he surprisingly connects and makes a friend with one of the chimpanzees.
To heal his soul, Tovy allows the countryside and his new friend to alleviate him of his pain. As the quest started by Tomás comes to its finale, the journey of love and loss comes full circle.
Overall, Portugal spins a tale of a heartfelt guest of three men, decades apart, to overcome their grief.
With quirky writing and odd phrases that add to the vivid storytelling, The High Mountains of Portugal enchants and distributes with touches of magical realism that keep the reader on the edge of their seats. Martel creates a novel filled with the supernatural, adventure, love and loss that takes the reader on a journey of the human soul greater than anyone thought could be possible.
If you read and enjoyed Life of Pi, or enjoy magical realism or journeys of discovery, understanding or the meaning of the human soul, The High Mountains of Portugal is a must-read.