Review: The High Mountains of Portugal

The High Mountains of Portugal
The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those novels where I know I was missing something. I could see that there was something bigger going on, but couldn’t quite see the big picture. I’m sure I’m still missing a lot of it, too.

The High Mountains of Portugal is a tale told in three parts, over three different time periods beginning in the early 20th century. Tomas goes in search of a mysterious crucifix, Dr. Eusebio Lozaro is visited by his dead wife, who brings Agatha Christie novels and explains that they echo the Gospels before he does a very, very bizarre autopsy, and finally Peter, a retired Canadian senator, buys a chimpanzee in Oklahoma and goes to live in his ancestral home in the High Mountains of Portugal.

The first part of the story, with Tomas, is rather boring. He drives his uncles car, and there is a lot — I mean, A LOT — of information about the car. Most of the people he encounters in the country have never seen one, and their reactions are interesting, but seem a distraction from the story. Of course, the car turns out to be pretty important.

The part with the pathologist and the mystery novels and the autopsy was, by far, the weirdest. Honestly, it was a bit hard to swallow, unless the whole thing was a dream. Maybe it was.

My favorite part was the third, with the senator and his chimp. Peter was a very relatable character and I could appreciate his desire to get away from everything and enjoy the quiet countryside after the death of his wife.

Chimpanzees are an important symbol to the book, as all three stories feature one (or more) in some way. Relationships between fathers and sons and surrogates is also important. There’s more, and a closer second read would likely help me understand it more, but unlike Life of Pi, I don’t feel the desire yet to revisit The High Mountains of Portugal.

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