BALTASAR AND BLIMUNDA
Jose Saramago


A fascinating narrative style, endless repetition of minute detail, leading to an otherworldly surreal effect. A beautiful job of translation; it must be very difficult to translate not only a plot/story, but also the atmosphere.

Domenico Scarlatti makes an appearance as a minor character!

In fact, the historical setting is real. The further I got into the book the more I realized the vastly entertaining scene of the King's conjugal visit (page 1) is not incidental to the plot, but rater the genesis. The King's thanksgiving for his child leads to the pledge of a convent, the construction of which takes up most of the next 300 pages. And along with construction comes destruction, as was also mentioned in the guidebook to Portugal I checked.

Besides the King and his sexual history, there is Gabriel, "driven to relieve himself by sinful means;" encounters with prostitutes, complete with syphillis; and beautiful sex between Baltasar and Blimunda: "Fumbling in total darkness, they reached out to each other, naked, he penetrated her with desire and she received him eagerly, and they exchanged eagerness and desire until their bodies were locked in embrace, their movements in harmony, her voice rising from the depth of her being, his totally submerged, the cry that is born, prolonged, truncated, that muffled sob,. That unexpected tearŠ for at least they are here, having gone and returned.:

Also wonderful: Baltasar and Blimunda, having gone to look at the statues for the new convent, Blimunda looks back, the "statues glistened like crystallised salt." This gesture brings to the reader thoughts of Lot's wife and a terrible sense of (justified) foreboding.

Also wonderful: Although the King and his rash promises are at the source of all the trouble, there is still sympathy for the royal women, who leave their home three times: to be baptized, married, and buried, and for the young princesses, one only 11 years old, who are exchanged as treaty tokens.

But in the end, the most wonderful thing about this book was how the real and surreal merged, the endless detail of reality taking on a surreal quality, while the deeply personal story of two peasant lovers is played out against a background of real historical history and tragedy.