Life of Pi this book is not. I really did not know what to expect with this book but what I got I could not have imagined. There were parts of the book that were clearly interesting; however, being interesting does not equate to being enjoyable. I can’t decide if the author was going through an existential crisis and was trying to figure out whether or not he believed in what he was writing or if he was just trying to fool himself into believing it.
My overall impression of the book is that it’s a type of allegory or parable told in three parts, which at one point in the book becomes a deep discussion occurring between two characters, ultimately comparing the parables of Christ to Agatha Christie novels. It is this part of the book, the second part, that I found most interesting. Aside from an extremely unusual autopsy, the second part is the most worthy of conversation. I am not sure if this comparison of the gospels to Agatha Christie novels is genius or insulting. If Agatha Christie was a Christian and was influenced by the gospels when writing her many mystery novels then this part of the book could be considered an homage to her work and or the influences of the gospel on stories in general. If however she was not a Christian then I’m not really sure what the point the author was making here. I haven’t decided if this is a good thing or a bad thing but like I stated before it’s very interesting. Overall this second part of the book seems to be an attempt by the author to explain or understand his own belief or disbelief in Christianity. Perhaps he’s a big fan of Agatha Christie and is caught up in some fanboy-like worship of her work? As a Christian this is a little unsettling but ultimately interesting. For anyone who’s not a Christian, I have no idea how or if this section of the story will affect them.
The first part of the book was my least favorite part of the book and the point at which I almost threw my Kindle across the room, but then I realize there are other precious stories on that device that I do not wish to harm. I did not like the character of Thomas. Despite the grief that he was going through, I did not feel sorry for him. His choice to walk backwards as a way of expressing his grief seemed awkward at first but after a while it just became silly. It seemed as though grief somehow made Thomas an imbecile; he was unable to think logically or behave in any type of responsible manner; he took no responsibility for anything that he did. Despite the sad things that happened to him, everything he did was a conscious choice, even the choice to pretend he didn’t kill someone.
On top of being riddled with bad decision making, Thomas decided that God was to blame for his grief and goes on a journey to somehow break down the entire Christian faith with some idol that he believes is out there, an idol that’s going to shake up the whole world. It is this idol that really gets me angry. The idea that some priest finally realizes how horrific the slave trade is, and in rebellion against a religious system that appears to be encouraging and thriving on perpetuating that system, decides to create a figure of Christ in the form of a chimpanzee is absolutely ridiculous and insulting. This priest decides to dehumanize Christ instead of making any effort to fix, or at least change, a system clearly not following its very own principles.
(I almost want to give the author credit for pointing out the irony that exists in the US, a nation defined by democracy while currently struggling to keep its democracy and treat all its citizens as equal, but he’s not from the US and probably doesn’t care about US civil issues).
This notion of the Christ ape is a rip on the debate between creation and evolution as though this is a conflict solely between Christians and non-Christians. It’s insulting to not even take into consideration that there are many other faiths and philosophies of life that do not 100% buy into the ideas of creation or evolution. This is a debate that has many areas to consider but this book is taking nothing else into consideration. It’s insulting for an ape to be delegated the role of being used as a tool for religious or anti-religious propaganda without clear explanation- this is not a topic suitable for a new-age parable. Why can’t an ape just be an ape. If you want to be upset at how horrible slavery is, then be upset about how horrible slavery is. Don’t deface someone’s religion in blame. There are many things about Christianity that people are constantly struggling with and arguing about and trying to understand, but it almost seems as though the author is trying to say that Christianity is the reason that the American and international slave trade existed and that Christianity must somehow be punished for it.
It is absolutely ridiculous and offensive that a white man from a wealthy family or a disillusioned white priest would compare their personal woes to the existence of an enslaved black person. And jumping ahead a little to the fact that the third part of the book was my least disliked part, I am also deeply annoyed that the author is able to show more humanity towards the treatment of an ape then he was able to show towards the slaves described in the first part of the book. A white man can bring an ape into his home, but a white priest can only read scriptures to brutalized slaves dying in a cage.
So in the last part of the book, which was for me the most tolerable part, though not as interesting as the second part, we see a sweet exchange between a man and an ape that reminded me of the nostalgia of reading Curious George as a kid.. So I guess this goes to show that human beings can be kind to animals and go out of their way to improve the lives of animals, but not other human beings that don’t have the same skin color as them.
Then there’s this whole mythological side of the story where weird things happen, such as a golden child bringing fertility to women or finding several animals inside a person’s body, and all other kinds of silliness. The point of me reading this book is that it was supposed to be an example of description for my book club. From that standpoint, it is a great example of description. The descriptions in this book were presented in a very vivid way. Some of the descriptions were perfect. Some of the descriptions were absolutely over the top and caused the story to drag. In any case, if you struggle with description and want some ideas about ways to describe things, you could read this book to get some ideas. And that’s all I have to say about this book and descriptions.
I wanted to like this book but I really did not. I won’t go so far as to say I hated the book but it did make me very angry. The only reason I finished this book is because I selected this book for my book club and felt a responsibility to do so. I am deeply disappointed in this book.Perhaps if I wasn’t a black woman living in America, the descendent of slaves during a time when Black Lives Matter is still for some reason a debate, I might have a different impression of this book. But this is my reality and this is how I feel after reading this book. I can see someone else liking this book if they aren’t thinking too deeply about it or happen to live a very charmed life with no religious or faith-base concerns to consider.
I will not be recommending this book to anyone and have nothing against anyone who reads this and likes it. They are not me and I am not them

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The High Mountains of Portugal: A Novel

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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
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR
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 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

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR

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 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

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Top reviews from the United States

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Reviewed in the United States on April 14, 2021

5 people found this helpful

Reviewed in the United States on August 21, 2017

I still remember when Yann Martel’s Life of Pi was the rage among my British friends, after it won the Booker Prize in 2002. I purchased it, and still have not read it. Instead, I was intrigued by the title, and subject matter of this novel, and it has thus become my first Martel read.
“Empires” have been around for a long time, commencing when humankind developed agricultural settlements in Mesopotamia, Africa, India, China, and no doubt other places. A minority of individuals economically, physically and usually legally dominating a majority, often of a different tribe or race. Starting in the late 15th Century, most of the European powers – later to be joined by the United States – developed substantial empires that were an integral part of their national existence – until they weren’t. As a European power, the Portuguese got into the empire game early, and were one of the last to leave, in the 1970’s, which was portrayed with varying degrees of success in Antonio Antunes’ The Return of the Caravels . I know less about the Portuguese empire than most of the rest. It seemed that they did the least towards physically and mentally improving the lives of the natives; yet they also seemed to be one of the least overtly racist.
Martel’s novel spans the centuries, and connects the colonies, the mother country, and the Portuguese diaspora. It is set in three major parts. The novel commences in Lisbon, December 1904. Menino Tomas has lost his father, his wife and his child in one week. The latter two died due to diphtheria. His wife was 24. As a result of his grief, he now walks backwards. Tomas holds a government job, working in a museum. From the museum he swipes the diary of Father Ulisses, who worked in Luanda (Angola) in 1631. He would later move to San Tome. He would become disillusioned with the colonial project, and disgusted with slavery. He would fall out of favor with the church hierarchy. Per the diary, he carved a crucifix, that apparently made its way to a church in the high mountains of Portugal. As the author points out, they really aren’t much in the way of mountains – more like a high, rather infertile plateau.
Tomas’ rich uncle, Martim, who made his fortune in the African trade, gives him a new Renault motorcar, by which he is to travel to the high mountains in search of the crucifix, which must be at one of five churches. Of course, he must learn how to drive the car first, which comes with a crank starter. The expedition takes a couple of weeks, finding fuel is a major concern, as this motorcar is often the first one most villagers have seen.
The second part is set in 1938 and involves a pathologist Eusebio Lorora. Naturally there are ties to the characters of the high mountains from the 1904 section. There is also a heavy dose of what is dubbed “magic realism” that did not seem to contribute to the novel’s success. The third part commences in 1981, in Canada, with an émigré from the high mountains who “made good”: he is a member of Parliament. He decides to chuck it all, and with a gorilla that he rescues from an animal center in Oklahoma, returns to the same village where the crucifix is, which happens to be his birthplace.
No question, Yann Martel writes very well, and illuminates various places in history, as well as aspects of life, like early motorcars in remote regions, and gorillas. However, the novel simply did not cohere sufficient, seemed out of focus, with parts seemingly irrelevant, as he chased some topics of “political correctness” involving our on-going relationships with the animal “kingdom.” Thus, overall, 4-stars.

“Empires” have been around for a long time, commencing when humankind developed agricultural settlements in Mesopotamia, Africa, India, China, and no doubt other places. A minority of individuals economically, physically and usually legally dominating a majority, often of a different tribe or race. Starting in the late 15th Century, most of the European powers – later to be joined by the United States – developed substantial empires that were an integral part of their national existence – until they weren’t. As a European power, the Portuguese got into the empire game early, and were one of the last to leave, in the 1970’s, which was portrayed with varying degrees of success in Antonio Antunes’ The Return of the Caravels . I know less about the Portuguese empire than most of the rest. It seemed that they did the least towards physically and mentally improving the lives of the natives; yet they also seemed to be one of the least overtly racist.

Martel’s novel spans the centuries, and connects the colonies, the mother country, and the Portuguese diaspora. It is set in three major parts. The novel commences in Lisbon, December 1904. Menino Tomas has lost his father, his wife and his child in one week. The latter two died due to diphtheria. His wife was 24. As a result of his grief, he now walks backwards. Tomas holds a government job, working in a museum. From the museum he swipes the diary of Father Ulisses, who worked in Luanda (Angola) in 1631. He would later move to San Tome. He would become disillusioned with the colonial project, and disgusted with slavery. He would fall out of favor with the church hierarchy. Per the diary, he carved a crucifix, that apparently made its way to a church in the high mountains of Portugal. As the author points out, they really aren’t much in the way of mountains – more like a high, rather infertile plateau.

Tomas’ rich uncle, Martim, who made his fortune in the African trade, gives him a new Renault motorcar, by which he is to travel to the high mountains in search of the crucifix, which must be at one of five churches. Of course, he must learn how to drive the car first, which comes with a crank starter. The expedition takes a couple of weeks, finding fuel is a major concern, as this motorcar is often the first one most villagers have seen.

The second part is set in 1938 and involves a pathologist Eusebio Lorora. Naturally there are ties to the characters of the high mountains from the 1904 section. There is also a heavy dose of what is dubbed “magic realism” that did not seem to contribute to the novel’s success. The third part commences in 1981, in Canada, with an émigré from the high mountains who “made good”: he is a member of Parliament. He decides to chuck it all, and with a gorilla that he rescues from an animal center in Oklahoma, returns to the same village where the crucifix is, which happens to be his birthplace.

No question, Yann Martel writes very well, and illuminates various places in history, as well as aspects of life, like early motorcars in remote regions, and gorillas. However, the novel simply did not cohere sufficient, seemed out of focus, with parts seemingly irrelevant, as he chased some topics of “political correctness” involving our on-going relationships with the animal “kingdom.” Thus, overall, 4-stars.

One person found this helpful

Top reviews from other countries

J. Ang

Three Men and a Chimp

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 28, 2016

Martel, who wrote Booker-winning “Life of Pi”, is back with an animal allegory of sorts, a device he uses in “Pi”, and the equally captivating “Beatrice and Virgil”. But whereas those two books moved me to tears, with their distillation of human nature, this one went right over my head.
Divided into three parts, with a male focaliser in each, the story moves from Lisbon in the early twentieth century, then thirty years later in a hospital in the city, to modern-day Canada which starts the third part, and finally back up to Portugal. All three focalisers have suffered familial losses, and each deals with it in different but connected ways. Tomas copes with his loss by adopting a strange gait, which I couldn’t help but feel was too obvious a metaphor which is explained by Tomas himself quite early on as an objection to God, and belaboured throughout his quest for a holy relic which he hopes to make good his protest.
The second part that features pathologist Eusebio is more engaging with the psycho-religious discussion with his wife on the parallels between Agatha Christie’s mysteries and the bible. The magic-realism of the latter part of the story also shows Martel’s creative imagination in full force.
By the time the third part came round, with the promised linkup of the threads of the disparate narratives, I expected a denouement no less mind-blowing than the one in “Pi”. Alas, I felt frustratedly underwhelmed, and the feeling puzzled me. Martel’s writing was no less luminous than that seen in his previous works, and his ability to inhabit the moment that gives no inkling of the very next thing that is about to happen still gave me quite a few page-turning moments. He has also a naturist’s sensitivity to the behaviour of animals that is conveyed in scintillating prose. However, I just could not get at the larger picture that he seems to be hinting at, and in the end, the opacity just stumped me. Maybe I need to re-read this to get its hidden message, but I’m half afraid to find out that this was all there is in the first place.

Divided into three parts, with a male focaliser in each, the story moves from Lisbon in the early twentieth century, then thirty years later in a hospital in the city, to modern-day Canada which starts the third part, and finally back up to Portugal. All three focalisers have suffered familial losses, and each deals with it in different but connected ways. Tomas copes with his loss by adopting a strange gait, which I couldn’t help but feel was too obvious a metaphor which is explained by Tomas himself quite early on as an objection to God, and belaboured throughout his quest for a holy relic which he hopes to make good his protest.

The second part that features pathologist Eusebio is more engaging with the psycho-religious discussion with his wife on the parallels between Agatha Christie’s mysteries and the bible. The magic-realism of the latter part of the story also shows Martel’s creative imagination in full force.

By the time the third part came round, with the promised linkup of the threads of the disparate narratives, I expected a denouement no less mind-blowing than the one in “Pi”. Alas, I felt frustratedly underwhelmed, and the feeling puzzled me. Martel’s writing was no less luminous than that seen in his previous works, and his ability to inhabit the moment that gives no inkling of the very next thing that is about to happen still gave me quite a few page-turning moments. He has also a naturist’s sensitivity to the behaviour of animals that is conveyed in scintillating prose. However, I just could not get at the larger picture that he seems to be hinting at, and in the end, the opacity just stumped me. Maybe I need to re-read this to get its hidden message, but I’m half afraid to find out that this was all there is in the first place.

4 people found this helpful

H. Fearon

Amazingly magical,charming surreal interconnecting journeys exploring love, spiritualism and recovery from grief. Simply superb.

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 14, 2016

I absolutely loved Life of Pi, and was not at all disappointed in this book. I loved it and want to read it again, soon. There are many spiritual similarities with The Life of Pi, and both books are charming, thought provoking and have many surreal elements. There is reference in Life of Pi to the author struggling with a book about Portugal! Each part of this three part novel The High Mountains of Portugal takes you on an intriguing and magical journey through a part of the life and death (their experience of bereavement) of the main characters. There is surrealism in all three parts of the novel, and an intense exploration of what it means to love and the loss of that love, dealing with grief, how having a focus and sense of purpose will help those dealing with grief recover. I am surprised that the deeper meaning of this book has been missed by those giving poor reviews, which is really sad. The first character Tomas could be played by Charlie Chaplin, and indeed in my head It was played out with similar pathos and humour but was really charming and thought provoking. The idea of a man walking backwards as a display of his grief and Objection to what is coming his way is thought provoking indeed. The second part of the novel initially seems unconnected to the first, there is discussion about religion and how the parables of Jesus may be reflected in modern novels. The autopsy is totally surreal but compelling and as in many books and films you have to suspend disbelief. It makes me think of the surreal quality of Parasitic island in Life of Pi, although there were no parasites as such here. The second part of the story answers questions left hanging in my mind from the first part of the book. The third part of the book is also compelling, sad, funny and delightful and the stories interweave further. The character starts in Canada, and takes us on an amazing journey through recollections of his life, through the US and on a journey of self discovery thing him right back to his roots in Portugal, to the very place the end of the first part of the story begins. His journey involves learning new languages, both Portuguese, and those of both the animal and those who connect with it. There are parables or moral tales, in all three parts of the novel and indeed in Life of Pi also: That to be happy (and also recover from grief), that we need a sense of purpose, to live in the moment, to love others and to exercise forgiveness. The simple life lived by the people in the high mountains of Portugal is a lesson for us all. Thanks to Yann Martel for delivering an amazing magical journey delivered from the heart. He does deserve the Man Booker prize.

9 people found this helpful

Mark Speed

Good, but not compelling

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 27, 2016

I read this book after reading a really bad review in Private Eye. Whoever wrote the review simply has something against magical realism, and it’s rather unfair to judge a novel by a past master of the genre simply because you don’t like it.
It’s a tale in three apparently unconnected parts, which come together nicely at the end. The first part was comic and absurd. Again, a critic would have to understand that the basis of comedy is to exaggerate, and in this instance we have a naive character set up for a fall. Some of the descriptions were over-long, but one could argue that was to fuel the comedy later.
It’s not as compelling a tale as Life of Pi.As I said the rest of it stacks up pretty well. It was a little unsatisfying. If there was a deeper theme or message then it passed me by. And, well, it just wasn’t that compelling as a story (or set of stories).

It’s a tale in three apparently unconnected parts, which come together nicely at the end. The first part was comic and absurd. Again, a critic would have to understand that the basis of comedy is to exaggerate, and in this instance we have a naive character set up for a fall. Some of the descriptions were over-long, but one could argue that was to fuel the comedy later.

It’s not as compelling a tale as Life of Pi.As I said the rest of it stacks up pretty well. It was a little unsatisfying. If there was a deeper theme or message then it passed me by. And, well, it just wasn’t that compelling as a story (or set of stories).

2 people found this helpful

Jana

A welcome if jarring smack on the emotional funny bone

Reviewed in Canada on March 8, 2016

Not as awe inspiring as life of Pi nor as discomforting as Beatrice and Virgil, this book is fascinating yet seems oddly balanced, not unlike what an ape would look like hurrying down a busy pedestrian street. As a reader I was left, with each of the stories, feeling as though I were enjoying a particularly flavourful and unusual meal only to have it whisked away by the waiter partway through. All in all, it’s a beautiful, thoughtful and almost painfully poignant read, as is every book by this author. It is also, like the others, A somewhat unsettling read, verging on the macabre and leaving one feeling like one has hit one’s emotional funny bone on something hard.

4 people found this helpful

markr

A little too strange

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 12, 2016

I had such high expectations having loved Life of Pi, but found this to be a little too strange. There are three separate but connected stories – the first of which I found compelling about a man driving a car when cars were a rare sight indeed and the curiosity and sometimes hatred his appearance would arouse, with eventually tragic results. The second story about a mortician is just weird, and the third about a man’s relationship with a chimpanzee rather odd.
All the stories have the backdrop of the high mountains of Portugal (which aren’t actually mountains at all) and all are connected across time – but to be honest it was a struggle after the first one

All the stories have the backdrop of the high mountains of Portugal (which aren’t actually mountains at all) and all are connected across time – but to be honest it was a struggle after the first one

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