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The High Mountains of Portugal

Published 2016 by Spiegel & Grau

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. — Søren Kierkegaard

Walking backward through life is a way to gain insight into past experiences and decisions. Retrospection alone is not enough: to just look back cannot give a person enough clarity. Rather, the choice to “live” back, to relive the journey through each consequence of every decision, every step, and revisit the canvas of every context can waken us to our purpose and value in this life. Though in placing a single step behind the other in backward motion, one sinks ever more deeply into the mire of the past—the confusion, the feelings of uncertainty and ineptness. Present, much less future living becomes impossible.

Martel in this work begins his sketch with a character, Tomás, walking ever backward in an attempt at grasping what he had loved and lost in his life. The second part of the book is inspection and deduction: the work of a pathologist closely inspecting what he presently sees in a corpse in order to construct an image of the past. Eusebio is inextricably stuck in the present with what he sees. He possesses refined abilities of perception, interpretation, and deduction, but he is limited in his application of these skills. He cannot extricate himself nor escape his present.

To live the future then, a person must review their past to an appropriate extent but not end up lost and ensnared; they must also fully consider their present circumstances and choices. But as Peter discovers with Odo in section three, the future is lived, not mapped or planned. It is lived, as our past and present should be, by allowing the complexity of our connections with the world to build, shift, and change. These invisible, asynchronous connections of place, of time, and of persons (not limiting persons to humans) link our energies and generate a truth in reality and a realness in truthful existence.

text/review content © copyright 2020 Jean A. Turman, Lucid Style

Martel, Yann. The High Mountains of Portugal. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016.

Orangutan Gaze image prompted by Jean A. Turman, AI artwork generated by Dall-E