The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel: Book Review

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel: Book Review

The High Mountains of Portugal is the latest novel from the 2002 Man Booker prize-winning author of Life of Pi, Yann Martel. Spanish-born, Canadian author Yann Martel has crafted this mesmerising story that is as good, if not better than Life of Pi.

Yann Martel once again uses the tools of religious allegory and zoological lore to explore the meaning of life and the human experience of suffering.

The High Mountains of Portugal is a suspenseful, intriguing story of three connecting narratives that span the 20th century. Yann Martel uses the power of story telling to the explore great love, lost love, faith, reason and grief.


In Homeless, the first novella is set in Portugal 1904. The protagonist, Tomas has lost his son, lover and Father within a week. Tomas’ response to the overwhelming grief is to walk backwards.

“Some people never laugh again. Others take to drink,” Martel writes. “Walking backwards, his back to the world, his back to God, he is not grieving. He is objecting. Because when everything cherished by you in life has been taken away, what else is there to do but to object?”

Tomas journey through the High Mountains of Portugal, in one of the first motor cars, in search of a crucifix as mentioned in the diary of a 17th century priest. The journey becomes an allegory for Tomas’ grief.


In the second novella, Homeward, the tale unravels over one surreal night in the office of Dr Lozora, a pathologist in Braganca, Portugal in the late 1930’s.

Dr Lozora’s wife visits to explain her theory about the connection of the Gospels and Agatha Christie. Here Martel explores one of his personal re-occurring themes of faith and reason.

The second guest that night takes Dr Lozora into a bizarre allegory of sorrow, including the entombing of a baby chimp in a corpse.

Here we see Martel’s skill as a master story teller who uses the writers tool of allegory with stunning effect.


In the third and final novella we meet Peter Tovy, a Canadian Politician at the end of his career and following the loss of his adored wife. On a political trip to a chimp refuge in Oklahoma Peter Tovy befriends and adopts an ape. The ensuring story is a beautiful tale tinged with sadness and moments of joy.

Peter Tovy’s story is woven into the fabric of the previous two novellas and we are once again spell bound by Yann Martel’s story telling magic that we loved so much in Life of Pi.


This book is recommended to anyone who enjoyed Life of Pi. Lovers of religious allegory and zoological lore will also throughly appreciate The High Mountains of Portugal. Take your time to read this novel as the themes are worth digesting and so poignantly capture the human experience.

The High Mountains of Portugal is a great story told by a master of story telling and has a 4 out of 5 stars.

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