32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love in the Time of Inquisition
LOVE IN THE TIME OF INQUISITION
What's love got to do in a society that is governed by religious bigotry and royal whims? Apparently nothing. But it is love between two ordinary human beings around which José Saramago, weaves his tale of historical fantasy, `Baltasar and Blimunda'. And to what great effect! The romance, spanning almost a lifetime, traversing...
Published on January 13, 2000 by Chinmay Hota
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting Prose Grows Tedious
Ursula Le Guin's introduction to "The Collected Novels of Jose' Saramago" prepared me for Saramago's unconventional punctuation which I thought would be a major annoyance to me. Surprisingly, the bizarre punctuation didn't bother me at all. Although there was a plot, his writing style was sort of "stream of consciousness", and the punctuation enhanced the way his words...
Published 5 months ago by Clarice Marchman-Jones
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love in the Time of Inquisition,
What's love got to do in a society that is governed by religious bigotry and royal whims? Apparently nothing. But it is love between two ordinary human beings around which José Saramago, weaves his tale of historical fantasy, `Baltasar and Blimunda'. And to what great effect! The romance, spanning almost a lifetime, traversing the length and breadth of Portugal, even soaring into the sky, brings a breath of fresh air to a plot that abounds in filth, brutality, indifference and decay. The tenderness of the relationship serves to make the surrounding evil appear murkier, while the all-pervading depravity indirectly gives more substance to the experience of love.
The lovers, Baltasar, a former solider and Blimunda, a woman with a mysterious power of clairvoyance, meet each other in the killing fields of Inquisition. While Baltasar has lost an arm fighting a war for his motherland, Blimunda has been separated from her mother who has been banished to a far-off land by the Holy Office of Inquisition. But wars and Inquisition are not the only forces of evil that are eroding the foundations of a nation that has left its glory far behind. 18th-century Portugal is full of blood and gore. Take for instance, the brutal bull-fight sessions so vividly presented by Saramago, `The place smells of burned flesh, but this odour gives no offence to nostrils accustomed to the great barbecue of the auto-da-fe, besides the bull ends up on somebody's plate and is put to good use in the end' (page-90). There are also murdered bodies scattered in the streets of Lisbon. Famines, plague, earthquake, Spanish invasions, poverty and squalour -- all add to the misery of the land.
Strange it may seem, but this harsh milieu spurs the ambitions of two very different characters in the novel. The king, Dom João, the Fifth, wants to build the biggest Basilica in the country to redeem a pledge, when God grants him a male heir. `In a king, modesty would be a sign of weakness' (Page-4). Padre Bartolemeu, a scholar priest entertains the ambition to fly in a machine made of steel and cane, one that is fuelled by human `will'. The king's project is a product of his fancy, while the priest's is born of true conviction.
Baltasar and Blimunda get drawn into both these projects, by turns. After conquering the sky with the help of the Padre's machine, they move to Mafra to work on the construction of the Basilica. Wherever they are, their ardour for each other remains undiminished. Doing justice to their nick names -- Seven-Suns and Seven-Moons -- they attract each other like heavenly bodies, eternally.
The author excels in his depiction of contrasts. The king and the queen present the most incongruous pair in the novel. But even the seemingly harmonious Baltasar and Blimunda are at bottom quite disparate. Baltasar's iron arm and capacity for tough physical labour represents hard reality whereas Blimunda with her visions, dreams and the `collection of wills' appears magical and ethereal. But the biggest contrast is reserved for the two long and arduous processions, which make up a substantial part of the narrative. The frustrations, accidental deaths and other painful incidents during the expedition to transport a big slab of stone to the construction site is skillfully counterpoised by the opulence, pomp and ceremony of the royal family is cavalcade. The cumbersome and labourious journey of the slab also finds a matching antithesis in the free soaring of the flying-machine.
The breathlessly long, run-on sentence is Saramago's trademark. He strays from or gets involved in the narrative as the situation demands. The pithy one-liners, though less frequent here than in `The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis', lend colour to the narrative. (`By eating frugally, we can purify our thoughts, through suffering we can purge our souls' (Page-20)). To check the severity of the proceedings, the author intervenes with humour from time to time, (`... stone slabs suspended from yokes that rest on their necks and shoulders, forever be praised whoever invented the pad that lessens the pain' (Page-224)).
`Baltasar and Blimunda' is a compelling novel, which celebrates the power of love and human will, even in the face of dark and sinister forces. Magical elements like visions, dreams, fantasies and so on give a new perspective to the hard reality and a new dimension to our experience of history.
( Quotations from The Harvill Press,London edition.)
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sensuous history lesson,
The novel takes place in Portugal in the early eighteenth century. An ex-soldier named Baltasar "Sete-Sois" (Seven Suns) Mateus arrives in Lisbon in 1711 looking for work. His options are limited, as he has lost his left hand in battle and replaced it with a hook, which qualifies him for employment in a slaughterhouse. He meets and falls in love with a girl named Blimunda, whose mother, accused of heresy by the Inquisition, has been banished to Africa. Blimunda purports to having some strange powers: She can look inside people's souls and even collect their "wills", a skill which will prove invaluable later in the novel.
Baltasar and Blimunda befriend a learned and mechanically-minded Brazilian priest named Padre Bartolomeu Lourenco, who is something of a flight pioneer. He convinces Baltasar to help him build a flying machine called the Passarola, which, he envisions, would be powered by a complex system of components including human "wills" that Blimunda, conveniently enough, is able to collect. That the Passarola is a ludicrously unfeasible contraption does not stop it from flying fortunately, for it allows its makers to escape angry Inquisitors.
Meanwhile, the King of Portugal, Dom Joao, anxious for a royal heir, is making a deal with a Franciscan friar to donate money for a new convent if the Queen, Dona Maria Ana, will deliver, so to speak. The Queen makes good on this several times over, so the King buys land from some farmers, one of whom happens to be Baltasar's father, and construction of the new convent is begun. As a source of boastful pride and a symbol of the overt alliance between the Church and the Crown, the convent turns into a Tower-of-Babel-like project, a ruthless shedder of blood, sweat, and tears.
Calling "Baltasar and Blimunda" a love story -- even a brilliant one -- is not giving it full credit. Saramago incorporates real historical figures and events into the plot, such as the Italian harpsichordist Domenico Scarlatti who emigrates to Lisbon; and, apparently, a priest named Lourenco really did build a working flying machine. (Of course, it's unlikely that Lourenco and Scarlatti actually ever met, but for the purpose of fiction, that possibility needs to be milked for all it's worth.) Saramago's prose is like a stiletto wrapped in silk; his sardonic tone offers wry observations on the disparities between royalty and peasantry and the cruelty and pageantry of the Church at the time. Yet, in one of the most beautiful and bittersweet endings I've ever read in any novel, he reminds his reader that love is the ultimate sovereign.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Genious,
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A love story with which you will fall in love,
For being a love story, though, Saramago adopts a very original approach to portraying Baltasar and Blimunda. He does not explain their love, he does not justify it, he does not even describe it. They simply love each other -- that is all you know and all you need to know.
The majority of the book isn't even about them. Most of the pages are spent in outright hilarious passages describing the frivolity and ostentations of royalty and the church in 18th century Portugal. Unlike much anti-clerical writing, this is done without anger or bitterness. Saramago takes an almost playful approach to the absurdities of the establishment -- the first 20 pages alone are enough to make the entire book worthwhile. The king and his court are a joke.
In the second half of the book, though, they slowly become a sad joke. This part of the book revolves around the construction of an abbey in Baltasar's home town of Mafra, and Saramago progressively shows the human cost of the royal whims. With heartbreaking resignation and bitterness, he shows how the king's decrees interrupt and destroy the lives of ordinary men and women.
And yet, in the midst of all this, Baltasar and Blimunda persist, neither caught up in the absurdities of the court nor trodden down by the resulting oppressions. They have no intentions in life and are merely happy to live that life by each other's sides. Saramago manages to say more about them in whole chapters of writing about other things entirely than in the scattered paragraphs he devotes to their companionship. The contrast is powerful.
In short, this is a novel at times debilitatingly funny and at times deeply touching, and through it all runs the thread of a man and woman who love each other and need no explanation.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tale from the oral tradition,
Baltasar, a crippled soldier returns home from war to such a milieu. He represents Everyman living a life of quiet dignity, pushed around occasionally by circumstance, cherishing little joys and comforts with his consort, Blimunda. The binding force of the story is the tender relationship between Baltasar and Blimunda, a love that is not expressed in words and that does not wane with time. A third character in the novel is Lourenco, the "Flying Priest." The three are brought together by a seemingly impossible dream of constructing a flying machine.
What is special about the book is the writer's narratorial skill: Saramago takes on the traditional role of a story-teller without being clever or fantastical. He narrates a plain, simple story without any superfluous embellishments. It is this simplicity and honesty that goes straight to the heart and lingers on. The author does not pause to indulge in verbal pirouettes or stylistic gymnastics. Nor does he gloss over metaphors and similes to conjure elaborate conceits out of them. Saramago borrows several features from the oral tradition: Baltasar and Blimunda is a stringing together of several loosely-related episodes and incidents, yet there is a structural circularity in the whole. The tone is sometimes easy and conversational when focused on specific incidents, sometimes it has an incantatory quality, sometimes it slows its pace to describe the mire and filth through which the characters must toil; and sometimes it soars high into the skies with the Passarola.
The story of Baltasar and Blimunda seems to get its power from the rhythms of the cosmos which it invokes constantly. The two main characters are nick-named after the sun and the moon. There are repeated references to the wind, the rain, to cyclical motions of time, to the earth, the heavens and the sky. In the attempt to fly into the skies one may detect the Lucifer motif or, more appropriately, the Icarus pattern: human aspirations daring to dream, foraging into the unknown and, of course, paying a price for the dream. Baltasar's fate reminds us that such is man's lot. All the while the heavens remain unperturbed, always beckoning, always tempting man to soar higher and higher. That man's reach should exceed his grasp or what else is the heaven for? This is what the author seems to suggest.
After putting the book aside, the reader is left with a lingering impression of a pair of lovers wrenched apart: he flying high somewhere in the mysterious spaces above, she roaming the world aimlessly, weeping, wailing, searching for a lost love.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I have flown, Father. My son, I believe you.",
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saramago is the world's greatest living writer,
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A qualified success,
I dissent from the common view expressed in this circle that Saramago tells a beautiful love story. I find it slow, wanting, and monotonous. Sometimes even tedious. I can understand that the two protagonists are not educated and can't be expected to quote Goethe or Keat every other page, but sure there can be more ways to describe their relationship than: 1. the dozen of times they ran to the nearest bushes and found carnal pleasures, and 2. the blind trust they have in each other and the glove-over-hand match which makes words superfluous. These are nice things (the sex part a bit overdone, not because I'm a prude, but because there is no enough "variety" in Saramago's depiction), but not enough to carry a story.
The strength of the book lies elsewhere, quite apart from a mediocre love story. I read it as an allegory of, or a sequel to Adam and Eve, the other famous uneducated couple falling in love. In the middle of the book, Padre Bartelomeu Lourcenco compared the trio to the Holy Trinity. I beg to differ. The two B's strike me as uncanny models of Adam and Eve after their exile, and the Padre is the snake tempting them for another sin, flying. Sure enough, our Adam and Eve did it again. If the book is read in that light, one can come away learning something. Unfortunately, Saramago digressed left and right, with, in my judgment, over-indulgent commentaries on royal lives and senseless exaggeration (or misleading emphasis) of debauchery among the royals, clergymen, and common people alike. I can't see why these extraneous stuff is necessary.
Despite it all, I like Saramago as a writer, and his prose is always first rate.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an outstanding novel,
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intense sojourn in a completely new country -- the past,
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Baltasar and Blimunda (Harvest Book) by Giovanni Pontiero (Paperback - October 16, 1998)