A novel by Nobel Prize
winning author Jose Saramago
, translated from Portuguese
by Giovanni Pontiero
. The novel recounts the life of Blimunda
from the age of nineteen
to old age. She meets the one-handed Baltasar
-or Sete-Sois as his nickname 'Seven Suns' is in Portuguese
- at the auto-da-fé
at which her mother is burnt for claiming to have visionary powers. These she does indeed have. Blimunda
also has this 'vision'- more a curse than a blessing. Its nature is such that if she fasts then she can see 'through' objects, be they people
. She can see people's tumours, their infections, their tapeworms
. Most importantly, she can see people's souls
, a shadowy penumbra
lurking within them.
Baltasar and Blimunda meet a priest by the name of Padre Bartolomeu Lourenço- historically recorded as a founding father of flight- whose unpheasable and heretical dream it is that he will one day fly. His command of physics is sufficient that he has constructed machines of flight before, but now he himself wishes to reach the Heavenly Vault. Blimunda collects people's souls using amber to attract them, and in direct sunlight this vial of soul-imbued amber rises inexorably heaven-ward. The Padre concieves of a mechanism whereby this could be manipulated to impart lift to a machine.
This having been built, and the maiden flight concluded with a degree of success, the Padre, whose skill at oratory is so great he preaches to the King himself, finds his belief increasingly difficult to maintain, and mysteriously disappears, leaving the two lovers alone with the Machine, for which they are now responsible...
Whilst a charming magical realist tale, this book sharply satirises the Church, the State (as ever with Saramago) and more specifically their exploitation of the poor. It is pensive, full of astute observations on human behavior, and uplifting.