Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Yann Martel Uses Apes as Symbolic Vehicle in New Faith-Themed Novel

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Yann Martel Uses Apes as Symbolic Vehicle in New Faith-Themed Novel

Article excerpt

Yann Martel on faith, apes and success

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TORONTO - Fifteen years after publishing the smash boy-tiger shipwreck tale "Life of Pi," Saskatoon author Yann Martel is exploring the notion of faith and reason once again with his new novel, "The High Mountains of Portugal."

And, like "Life of Pi" and Martel's 2010 Holocaust-themed novel "Beatrice & Virgil," he's using animals in an allegorical way.

In this case, the great symbolic vehicle is the chimpanzee, which appears in different incarnations in the story that offers up magical realism as it also looks at love, sorrow and suffering.

"In this one I chose chimpanzees because I wanted a great ape. I wanted something close to us," said Martel. "Apes, the great apes, especially gorillas and chimpanzees and bonobos, remarkably reflect us. There's clearly a divide. Our intelligence, for example.

"But nonetheless they are like a smoky, warped mirror of who we are, in an earlier form. We are linked."

"The High Mountains of Portugal" is divided into three parts -- "Homeless," "Homeward" and "Home" -- that come together at the end.

First we meet a Portuguese curator who is grieving the loss of his wife, child and father as he travels to the mountains in 1904. He drives a newfangled automobile as he searches for an artifact described in the diary of a priest who observed the slave trade.

Then there's the deeply religious Portuguese pathologist who performs an autopsy on the body of a woman's husband -- not to determine how he died but how he lived.

The third section features a Canadian widower who becomes infatuated with an ape at a chimpanzee sanctuary and brings the animal with him to his new home in Portugal.

Martel said he grew up in a secular household and didn't become interested in religion until he was older and visited India, where he saw the positive in making a leap of faith in such a pragmatic society. …

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