The High mountains of Portugal, Yann Martel.
Straight off the bat, this is a weird book. This is a tale of three different blokes across three different periods of time. The year is 1904 and the story starts with Tomas. Tomas is a different person. He walks backwards, always. Tomas has a bone to pick with god, whom he blames for the death of his wife and child. Infuriated with God’s grand scheme of everything, Tomas decides that walking backwards is the ultimate insult to god. And so, as an act of unrivalled rebellion, Tomas continues to walk backwards. He is quite efficient in gathering the attention and curiosities of the town.
Tomas finds comforts in the diary of Father Ulisses. Father Ulisses had been very vocal about the salves during his time in the 1600’s. Tomas finds himself in the same state of mind as Father Ulisses. Both had abandoned their faith, both were in conflict with the hierarchy of man. Both had rejected god because of god’s indifference to events occurring across the world. Both reject god because in their mind, god had rejected them. Ulisses apparently had created an artefact that would challenge the status of god in this world. Tomas embarks upon a quest to find that artefact. Tomas would never rest till he impeaches god from the pedestal.
Tomas reasons out that the artefact would be in one of the churches in the high mountains of Portugal. He begins his adventure on a brand new contraption that is believed to change all of humanity. An Automobile. Does Tomas find the artefact? Does Tomas exact his revenge against the mighty G?
And the in 1938, a Pathologist Eusebio is burning the midnight candle on the new year’s eve. He has a couple of cadavers to work through. He is interrupted by his angelic wife, Maria. Maria drags a present for her darling husband. She also lets him on a theory that she has been deeply contemplating. She questions the nature of god and reasons that most of God’s tales are through fables. She reasons that it is the nature of god’s existence through fables, is what that makes him endure and survive through ever changing contexts of the world. She also goes ahead and compares the works of Agatha Christie to that of the Bible. Her reasoning is flawless and does leave Eusebio wondering about the nature of god. Maria leaves and Eusebio is left missing his wife.
The good doctor is disturbed again by a woman. Maria, not his wife, but another woman. She says that she’s from the high mountains of Portugal. She walks in with a very weird request. She had dragged the body of her recently departed husband and expresses desire for Eusebio to conduct a full autopsy. Esuebio declines the request at first but eventually relents.
What killed Maria’s husband? Will Eusebio ever manage to balance work and life and return back to a happy life with his Maria?
And finally in 1981, Peter is a Senator in Canada. After the death of his wife, Clara, Peter is jaded with life. He happens to bump into the cage of a chimpanzee, Odo, and for whatever reason, he decides to buy the chimp and move out of Canada and live in the high mountains of Portugal. Peter’s ancestors had once lived there. With nothing more to look forward to, Peter decides to take Odo and live in Portugal. It’s a brand new start for both Peter and Odo. The two learn to exist and eventually live in each other’s presence. Peter doesn’t speak Portuguese fluently and neither does Odo! They manage to establish themselves into the lives of their new neighbours in the high mountains.
Peter is fascinated by Odo. He starts fearing the animal at first and slowly he moves away from fear. He feels alive in the presence of the chimp. Peter also starts to question the nature of Odo. Odo is extremely friendly and at the same time he is capable of causing bodily harm. Odo is usually pleasant and loveable but he also has his moments of rage and unpredictability. Peter tries to understand Odo and the two start to adjust their way of life to living in the high mountains of Portugal.
Will Peter figure out the evil that Odo is? Will Odo ever pose a threat to Peter? Will the villagers coexist peacefully with Peter and Odo? Will Peter ever want to go back to his life as a Senator in Canada?
The book’s central theme can be described in just a word. it’s a Search. God is plastered all over the book. Tomas and Peter, reach out to God in their time of need. The two deal with grief in their own separate ways. I’ll skip the good doctor because there is a nifty little twist to his tale.
This book is overambitious and is neither intelligent nor profoundly deep as it wants to be. The book does have a great potential in talking about our individual relationship with God. We are angry with god when we don’t get what we want. We make our peace with god when we decide to reclaim our life. And then there is hope. We live on hope and that hope defines our relationship with god. In fact, the three characters are wonderfully placed to have their distinct relationship with the almighty. Tomas represents anger, Peter represents acceptance ,The good doctor represents what it means to stay a human.
This is most definitely not the kind of book that one would absolutely feel compelled to read. It’s a kind of book that you buy because it was sold at a 70% discount. I got this as a gift. I enjoyed the book in parts.