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Light and silly books are great, as are articles you can read and understand in six minutes flat. Sometimes, though, you crave something a bit deeper and more philosophical. That’s when you pick up The High Mountains of Portugal, a new novel by Yann Martel.

A beautiful meditation on loss and grief, Martel’s latest work (15 years after Life of Pi) is made up of three vaguely interconnected novellas, all set in Portugal in the 20th century.

The first section, “Homeless,” tells the emotionally wrenching yet oddly funny story of a man who loses his lover, his son and his father in close succession. The second and third sections, “Homeward” and “Home,”are the strongest, however, and concern a pathologist performing a very strange autopsy and a widowed politician relocating from Canada to Portugal.

Fans of Life of Pi will instantly recognize Martel’s impeccably crafted prose and common themes: religion, science, magical realism and animals (the politician’s traveling companion is a chimpanzee named Odo).

Fable-esque in tone and experimental in style, The High Mountains of Portugal might not be an easy beach read, but it’s complex and thought provoking and remarkably well written. And, hey, if there’s ever a good time to contemplate how best to deal with the inevitability of death, it’s the dead of winter, right?


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