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.

16 thoughts on “Baltasar and Blimunda”

  1. I'm sad I didn't like this book as a.) I'd enjoyed Blindness and b.) this won a Nobel Prize. But, as you said there are other books by Saramago and there are other authors.


  2. It is certainly a complex novel.

    I have not even caught up to where you stopped, so I doubt there will be any enlightening going on this week. Or ever – does that sound like me, enlightening? Obfuscation will likely begin the week after this one.

    How is Blindness written? I do not know much about it – just the conceit.

    Where does the business about the “Nobel prize winning work” come from? The Nobel recognizes authors, not books. Saramago's citation does not mention any book in particular; the press release of course mentions many.


  3. See? You've enlightened me already; I'd misunderstood, from the site to which I linked, that the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998 was given to Baltasar and Blimunda not Jose Saramago himself. Can you see even a little bit, from the sticker on the damn book, how I would think that?

    As to Blindness it was a wonderful novel about literal blindness striking society. Only a few could see, and one brave woman led a group of the blind to safety. It was a wonderful paradigm about society itself, and I very much recommend it. My review is here if you care to click on it. And look! It apparently won the Nobel Prize too, judging from the sticker on the front! 😉


  4. I loved Blindness when I read it years ago. I recently watched the movie and thought it was good, but the book was much better. This sounds like something I'd slog through for a dozen pages before throwing it against the wall. Thanks for the review and saving me some precious time. 🙂


  5. Your comment makes me smile, Les, because as much as I want to enjoy what has been considered excellent literature, this piece did not work for me. Sad, because I did enjoy Blindness as you did (although I've not seen the film). Against the wall, even in imagination, this one will go. 🙂


  6. I loved that post because I had a similar problem with another of Saramago's novels, “The Cave”. I'd previously read and loved “Blindness” and was then quite disappointed with “The Cave”. I found it strange and much less insightful than “Blindness”, which to me was one of the most impressive books I've ever read. Maybe the secret with Saramago is to either work your way up to “Blindness” or just start with it and stop there?
    By the way, I agree with Les on the film. The book is much better, and I think the reason might be that the mental images the writing in “Blindness” produces are so much more incisive than what the film manages to put across.


  7. Ah, Bettina, it's like a balm that you had a similar problem with other Saramago's work. I was feeling like an idiot having to abandon this, but really, I just couldn't get into it. Not after the power of Blindness.

    So often the film is a huge disappointment after the novel. Perhaps that's why I prefer the written word to moving pictures. 🙂


  8. I can hardly believe the difference between the two books. Sure, they're by the same author. It they couldn't be more dissimilar in style. I guess that just shows Saramago's skill. I mean, part of why I like Johnny Depp is because he's never the same character twice.


  9. Oh hi!
    I was just passing by to check some photos to my Saramago's work and appeared this blog.
    Well, I'am portuguese.
    In school we have to read this book to presented in the class. I say that with very sadness because, in my opinion ( by the way i'm 15 years old) the book is hard to read. I think it's because is written in our mother tongue and so… becomes harder.


  10. The way you describe your reading experience with this one reminds me of how I felt when I read The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner. I don't think I have it in me to read this one but also almost want to give it a try for the challenge!


  11. The Cave is an easier read, I think; perhaps not easier, more interesting, warmer, more humane. I was deeply moved by the potter's plight as his ancient craft is destroyed by the Center's plastic products. The ending was bizarre, though.

    Baltasar and Blimunda is a novel I didn't like very much, even if it's the novel that launched Saramago's career internationally. Death at interruptions and All the names are vastly superior and more entertaining.


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