Tag Archives: Margaret Jull Costa

Classic book review: José Saramago’s “Blindess”

BlindnessJosé Saramago’s Blindness (Harcourt Brace) grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let you go.

The 1995 novel by the late Portuguese author is one of the most acclaimed works in literature. Saramago won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998 and Entertainment Weekly named it one of the 100 greatest novels ever. The book was made into a 2008 movie with Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gabriel García Bernal.

The novel begins in an unnamed city when a man is suddenly struck blind while driving in traffic. Soon, everyone he meets, including an eye doctor, becomes afflicted with “white blindness.” Hundreds become blind and are quarantined in a mental hospital. People are left starving or are shot if they approach those who can still see. Chaos erupts in the ward and the city.

“In a downpour like this, which is almost becoming a deluge, you would expect people to be taking shelter, waiting for the weather to improve. But this is not the case, there are blind people everywhere gaping up at the heavens, slaking their thirst, storing up water in every nook and cranny of their bodies, and others, who are somewhat more far-sighted, and above all sensible, hold up buckets, bowls and pans, and raise them to the generous sky, clearly God provides the cloud according to the thirst.”

But one woman — the doctor’s wife — retains her vision and is able to see the destruction around her. She leads the way for a small group to find some sanity.

None of the characters are given names or any details about their lives. At times, I would have liked to have known more about them, but I understand that Saramago did this intentionally to focus on their present circumstances.

I was intimidated by this book, but it proved to be a gripping read, even though Saramago writes in long paragraphs and uses very little dialogue. (The book’s translators, Giovanni Pontiero and Margaret Jull Costa, deserve credit for a great job.) The novel contains some disturbing images, including a scene in which a group of women are brutally raped. But that chapter also ends with a moment of great humanity.

Blindness is an extraordinary book, a novel that makes you hate and believe in humanity at the same time. You will never forget this novel, even after you’ve read the last page.

JOSE-SARAMAGOMore about José Saramago: Saramago‘s other books include The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, which drew controversy for its anti-religious views; Cain, a retelling of Biblical stories; and Raised From the Ground, which depicts the lives of Portuguese peasants.

Source: I checked this out of the library.

And that’s a wrap of my series of classic Latino novels. Check out my other list of classic novels by Latinas.



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Book review: Javier Marías’ “The Infatuations”

The Infatuations Javier Marías’ The Infatuations (Knopf) begins with an intriguing premise.

A young woman, María Dolz, eats breakfast every morning at a café in Madrid that is frequented by an attractive couple, Luisa and Miguel.

“The nicest thing about them was seeing how much they enjoyed each other’s company. At an hour when almost no one is in the mood for anything, still less for fun and games, they talked non-stop laughing and joking, as if they had only just met or met for the every first time.”

One day, she discovers Miguel is murdered. She becomes friends with Luisa as well as with Javier, a friend of the couple who helps the widow out after her husband’s death. María becomes entranced by the mystery of Miguel’s death — and Javier may have played a role in the part.

The Infatuations sounds like a great thriller, but it’s more intellectual. Whether you’ll like it depends on your tastes in literature.

The characters often talk in long monologues than can go on for paragraphs or even pages. Who talks like that? At times, I wanted the story to hurry up and get to some action. The book — which ran about 50 pages too long — is best read in small doses.

But those long pages of conversations also had elegant writing (translated by the great Margaret Jull Costa, who also translated José Saramago’s Cain and Paulo Coelho’s Aleph). Marías has some great observations about the human condition.

On memory:

“We gradually learn that what seems really important now will one day seem a mere fact, a neutral piece of information. We learn that there will come a time when we don’t even give a thought to the person we once couldn’t live without and over whom we spent sleepless nights, without whom life seemed impossible, on whose words and presence we depended day after day, and if we ever do, very occasionally give that person a thought, it will merely be to shrug and think at most: ‘I wonder what became of her?’ without a flicker of concern or curiosity.”

On fate:

“The bad thing about terrible misfortunes, the kind that tear us apart and appears to be unendurable, is that those who suffer them believe or almost demand that the world should end right there, and yet the world pays no heed and carries on regardless and even tugs at the sleeve of the person who suffered the misfortune, I mean, it won’t just let them depart this world the way a disgruntled spectator might leave the theatre, unless the unfortunate person kills him or herself.”

On relationships:

“We think men will change their mind or their beliefs, that they will gradually discover that they can’t do without us, that we will be the exception in their lives or the visitors who end up staying, that they will eventually grow tired of those other invisible women whose existence we begin to doubt or whom we prefer to think do not exist, the more we see of the men and the more we love them despite ourselves; that we will be the chosen ones if only we have the necessary staying power to remain by their side, uncomplaining and uninsistent.”

Patient readers will be rewarded with an interesting twist about the murder. The ending also makes you think about the significance of the title and how people can get caught up in each other’s lives. Think of The Infatuations as literary fiction with a wicked side.

Javier_MaríasMore about Javier Marías:

Marías, who was born in Madrid, is considered one of Spain’s top contemporary novelists. He has written thirteen novels, including the award-winning The Man of Feeling, All Souls and A Heart So White.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Happy Birthday, José Saramago!

Saramago, who was born on this date in 1922 and died in 2010, is one of only a dozen Latinos to win the Nobel Prize in literature, which he won in 1998.

Saramago’s best known book, 1995’s Blindness, was made into a 2008 movie starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gael García Bernal. His 1991 book, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ), drew controversy for its anti-religious views.

Granta ran a great article about the Portuguese writer by his translator, Margaret Jull Costa.

The Hispanic Reader reviewed his last book, Cain, which was published last month.

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Book review: José Saramago’s “Cain”

Nobel Prize winner José Saramago is known for his dark words such as Blindness. Who knew he was such a comedian?

The late Portuguese’s last novel, Cain, released last month, tells some of the stories of the Bible from the perspective of Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, who killed his brother, Abel, out of jealousy. After the murder, Cain witnesses historical events from the Bible – the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the creation of the golden calf and the construction of Noah’s Ark.

Through it all, Saramago offers some wry observations – such as when Eve complains about having diarrhea. “What’s diarrhea, asked the angel, Another word for it is the runs, the vocabulary the lord taught us has a word for everything, having diarrhea or the runs, if you prefer that term, means that you can’t retain the shit you have inside you.”

Or this, when Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac: “The logical, natural and simply human response would have been for abraham to tell the lord to piss off, but that isn’t what happened.”

(By the way, Saramago doesn’t capitalize names or use quote marks in the book.)

Of course, Saramago, who was known for his atheist views, is mocking the Bible. Cain frequently questions the Lord’s motives in killing thousands of innocent lives during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Golden Calf. Fans of Kurt Vonnegut and Christopher Hitches will love this stuff.

Saramago writes in never-ending sentences and never-ending paragraphs that may have some readers rereading passages. But, at 159 pages, Cain is a quick read and, considering the complexity of his other books, this may be a good starting point for his work.

More about José Saramago:

Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. The Nobel’s website includes this biography.

Margaret Jull Costa, who translated Cain and Paulo Coelho’s recent book Aleph, wrote about him in this article for Granta magazine.

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Book review: Paulo Coehlo’s “Aleph”

Paulo Coelho’s Aleph is not just a novel – but also a guidebook on how to live life in the present.

Coelho is the best-selling, beloved Brazilian novelist of The Alchemist and, like that book, Aleph is about a spiritual journey. The main character – a best-selling, beloved Brazilian novelist – is going through a mid-life crisis when he spontaneously decides to travel through Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway to meet his fans.

While on the trip, a 21-year-old woman named Hilal insists on traveling with him. Although he is turned off by her aggressive behavior, he finds peace when he experiences an “aleph” – “the point at which everything is in the same place at the same time” – and sees scenes from his past lives.

They soon realize they’ve experienced the same thing. “The great Aleph,” the narrator tells Hilal, “occurs when two or more people with a very strong affinity happen to find themselves in the same Aleph.”

Now they must figure out their shared connection. They find the mystery frustrating, since Hilal is very stubborn and Paulo is very married.

The book, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, is a quick read that has an intriguing twist about Paulo’s actions to Hilal in a past life. It is also filled with life-affirming metaphors, such as the mode of transportation: “Life is the train, not the station.”

Whether you love the book depends on your view on life. Some readers, such as those who follow Eckhart Tolle, will enjoy the passages in the book about living in the present and forgiving yourself and others. But other readers may find the book – with its touchy-feely New Age philosophies and talk of reincarnation – not for them.

More about Paulo Coelho:

• Biography.com has an interesting article on Coelho.

• Coelho discussed his secrets to reaching fans on social media to The Wall Street Journal.

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