The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel c. 2016 (332 pages—Spiegel & Grau)

A novel composed of three distinctive stories, all of which come together in the end. In the first part, Tomas the narrator—after losing his son, wife, and father—sets out on quest to find a religious statue referred to in a journal. Eusebio the protagonist in the second part is a pathologist that mourns the death of his wife. Peter, also mourning the loss of his wife, is a retired politician and the narrator of the third part. Grief and loss are explored, while androcentrism is questioned in this work of magical realism.

Sentences Worth Studying

  • “What his uncle does not understand is that in 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 object?” (12).
  • “When the final moment came, signaled to him by the dramatic stoppage of her loud, rasping breath (whereas their son had departed so quietly, like the petals of flowers falling off), he felt like a sheet of ice being rushed along a river” (18).
  • “Love is a house with many rooms, this room to feed the love, this one to entertain it, this one to clean it, this one to dress it, this one to allow it to rest, and each of these rooms can also just as well be the room for laughing or the room for listening or the room for sulking or the room for apologizing or the room for intimate togetherness, and, of course, there are the rooms for the new members of the household. Love is a house in which plumbing brings bubbly new emotions every morning, and sewers flush out disputes, and bright windows open up to admit the fresh air of renewed goodwill. Love is a house with an unshakable foundation and an indestructible roof. He had a house like that once, until it was demolished” (24).
  • “What are we without the ones we love? Would he ever get over the loss? When he looks in his eyes in the mirror when he shaves, he sees empty rooms. And when he goes about his days, he is a ghost who haunts his own life” (48).
  • “I said not a word. My tongue was stilled of any priestly cant. I am transformed. I saw. I have seen. I see. That short gaze made me see a wretchedness that until then had never echoed in my heart. I entered that cell thinking I was a Christian man. I walked out knowing I was a Roman soldier. We are no better than animals” (109).
  • “Every man and woman he encounters—he doesn’t see any children—smells of time and radiates solitude” (118).
  • “He churns with horror. Then a hand seizes that horror and stuffs it in a box and closes the lid. If he leaves quickly enough, it will not have happened. For a moment this accident is in himself only, a private mark, a notch carved nowhere but upon his sensibility. Outside him, nothing cares. Look for yourself: The wind blows, time flows” (122).
  • “‘We loved our son like the sea loves an island, always surrounding him with our arms, always touching him and crashing upon his shore with our care and concern” (200).
  • “And then he has nothing to do. After three weeks—or is it lifetime?—of ceaseless activity, he has nothing to do. A very long sentence, anchored in solid nouns, with countless subordinate clauses, scores of adjectives and adverbs, and bold conjunctions that launched the sentence in a new direction—besides unexpected interludes—has finally, with a surprisingly quiet full stop, come to an end. For an hour or so, sitting outside on the landing atop the stairs, nursing a coffee, tired, a little relieved, a little worried, he contemplates that full stop. What will the next sentence bring?” (273).
  • “That Odo learned to make porridge, that he enjoys going through a magazine, that he responds appropriately to something that Peter says only confirms a well-known trope of the entertainment industry, that apes can ape—to our superficial amusement. No, what’s come as a surprise is his movement down to Odo’s so-called lower status. Because that’s what has happened. While Odo has mastered the simple human trick of making porridge, Peter has learned the difficult animal skill of doing nothing” (300).

About Kelsey Maki

writer and English professor
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