The High Mountains of Portugal

The High Mountains of Portugal

Yann Martel’s latest novel is actually three stories, all set in Portugal at different points in the 20th century. Each one can be read independently of the others, but they’re also interconnected.

The High Mountains of Portugal is Martel’s sixth book — he is, of course, also the author of the bestseller and Man Booker Prize winner Life of Pi. In an interview he answers the question, why Portugal?


“Portugal is close to my heart because it was the first country I travelled to on my own, as a young adult. My parents were posted in Madrid, and rather than flying straight to Spain, I decided to fly into Lisbon and travel up and down the country. In the northeast, there’s an area known as Trás-os-Montes, which means “beyond the mountains.” I thought it was very odd because there were no mountains there… why would you call some place “Beyond the Mountains” when there are no mountains to start with? It always stayed with me, this idea of calling a place something that doesn’t quite apply to the geographical truth. And so when I came to write this book, I wanted an area that was slightly rarified and eccentric. I changed it from Trás-os-Montes to High Mountains, because of course there are no high mountains in Portugal. That’s the irony of the title.”

If you want to read the book then maybe stop reading now, as it might have some spoilers.


Overview of the book ‘The High Mountains of Portugal’:

In Lisbon in 1904, a young man named Tomás 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 Tomás’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 an exploration of love and loss.

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