Author: José Saramago
Publication Date: 1982
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Length: Approximately 400 pages
In José Saramago's 1982 historical fiction novel, "Baltasar and Blimunda," readers are immersed in 18th century Portugal, where the author creatively intertwines historical events with vivid storytelling. Through its compelling plot, rich characterization, and exploration of various themes, "Baltasar and Blimunda" offers readers an engaging glimpse into the lives of its protagonists and the historical context surrounding them.
The novel is divided into three sections, each contributing to the overall narrative arc.
Section One introduces the readers to the central characters: Baltasar, a war veteran suffering from the traumatic experiences of the Spanish War, and Blimunda, a visionary woman who possesses the unique ability to see inside other people's bodies. Set in 1711, during the reign of King João V, this section primarily explores the couple's unlikely love story, as they meet and form a bond through their shared experiences of hardship. Their relationship symbolizes the resilience and capacity for love amidst chaos and tragedy.
Additionally, Section One delves into the socio-political landscape of Portugal through the portrayal of the court. It uncovers the connection between royalty and the Inquisition, showcasing their influence on religious, scientific, and societal matters. This exploration raises themes of power, manipulation, and the clash between reason and faith.
In Section Two, the narrative shifts to the construction of the Mafra National Palace, ordered by King João V as a symbol of gratitude for the birth of a son. The palace represents the extravagance and ambition of the monarchy, and Saramago uses it as a backdrop to delve into broader societal issues. He explores the exploitation of the working class, the struggle for survival, and the oppressive mechanisms employed by those in power. The characters of Baltasar and Blimunda find themselves entangled in the project, with Baltasar working as a soldier and Blimunda serving as an extraordinary witness to its construction.
Through Blimunda's mesmerizing ability, she joins a secret society led by Father Bartolomeu, a priest-scientist who seeks to harness the power of human will. The society aims to construct a flying machine, literally lifting people's spirits to overcome earthly limitations. The theme of human ambition and the quest for knowledge come to the forefront in this section, as both the protagonist's struggles and the grand ambition of the society question the limitations society imposes on its individuals.
Lastly, Section Three revolves around Blimunda's travels to collect "Will," a metaphysical substance necessary for the secret society's experiment. Here, readers encounter an array of characters across Portugal, each touched by the growing influence of the Inquisition and the religious intolerance it represents. As Blimunda collects the Will, she witnesses first-hand the suffering of individuals and communities, highlighting the theme of human suffering and the resilience of the human spirit.
As the plot progresses, readers witness the fulfillment of Father Bartolomeu's vision with the completion of the flying machine. However, Saramago depicts its maiden flight as an incomplete triumph, subtly questioning the limits of human endeavor, the search for meaning, and the complexities of progress.
"Baltasar and Blimunda" presents an intricate tapestry of historical, philosophical, and societal issues. Through its compelling characters and exploration of power dynamics, religion, progress, and human resilience, Saramago invites readers to question the world around them and the forces that shape it. By seamlessly blending fiction with historical context, the novel provides a captivating and thought-provoking experience, ensuring its place as a significant literary work in both Portuguese and global literature.