Baltasar and Blimunda
What started as a joy to read quickly became tedious for me because I cannot read endless pages with sentences which have no punctuation whatsoever strung one after another filled with metaphor and allusion. One or two illustrations I can smile upon such as God having no use for a left hand since Jesus sat at His right others are beyond my point of reference.
Let me back up.
We begin in Lisbon, Portugal, the year is 1711. The friar Antony of St. Joseph promises King Dom Juao V, and his wife Dona Maria Ana, an heir to the throne if he will build a convent. This promised, their first child is conceived and born. Meanwhile, Baltasar Mateus, more fondly known as Sete-Sois (or Seven Suns) has been deprived of his left hand. Part of it remained in Spain, part in Portugal, while he was fighting in the war over who should occupy the Spanish throne: Austrian Charles or French Philip?
When Sabastiana Maria de Jesus, condemned by the Inquisition and sentenced to exile for having spoken of visions and revelations, is walking to her auto da fé, we are introduced to her daughter, Blimunda. She simply asks Baltasar his name, for he is standing close by, and in so doing their union is begun.
Padre Barolomeu Lourenco, the priest, accompanies Baltasar to Blimunda’s house. Padre Bartolmeu is known as The Flying Man, because he is building a Passarola; a machine which can fly. And so the story continues, with the one handed man, the girl who can see visions, and the priest who can reach the heavens.
Having read Saramago’s novel Blindness and throughly enjoyed every page, I am intrigued to find his illusions to blindness in this book. Blimunda fasts in the night, and breaks her fast in the morning by eating bread with her eyes closed. She does this so she can see with her unique ability to understand visions. “This is a day for seeing not just for looking, which may be all right for all those who possess eyes yet suffer from another form of blindness.”
I also appreciate the introduction of Domenico Scarlatti, whose harpsichord music I loved to play while studying at Wittenberg University’s music conservatory. Like Johann Sebastian Bach, I find his music brings an ordered elegance to whichever environment in which it’s played.
But, I must confess to becoming weary halfway through Baltasar and Blimunda. Tired of endless pages of philosophy and metaphor, with an extremely slow build up to either the building of the convent or the flying machine, I abandoned ship around page 200. Perhaps I will continue; perhaps Tom of Wuthering Expectations will so enlighten me about this work that I will pick it up again. If not, I’m glad that at least I had exposure to another Saramego book.