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Manual Baltasar and Blimunda

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When the book opens, the king is regularly performing his marital duty upon his timid and mopish Austrian wife, who has failed to conceive. The narrator, here and through much of the book, is grandiloquent, malicious and oddly wary. He sounds like a courtier writing to a relative he does not completely trust. It gives the court scenes a porous, slightly dreamlike quality; some of it very funny.

The barrenness, of course, must be laid to the queen. There is a marvelous account of the stately mating protocol. The queen awaits her husband wrapped from head to toe, despite the heat, in the goose eiderdown she brought from home. A Franciscan monk promises that the queen will conceive if the king builds a monastery at Mafra; assuming, that is, that he entrusts it to the Franciscan Order. The promise is less than it seems; apparently, the queen is already pregnant, though she is too innocent to know it.

Her lady-in-waiting knows it, though, and has passed the word to the proper Franciscan circles. The promise, in any event, is fulfilled; and the building of Mafra will be one of the major themes of the book, related in a detail that contrasts its magnificence with the deadly labor imposed upon the workers who build it. The detail is both crushing and thrilling.

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Other scenes, equally detailed, are more wearying. A bullfight, a procession of penitents to be punished in an auto-da-fe , a royal journey to Spain, are virtually parodies of 19th-Century-style ironic realism. They bring the book to an ornamented standstill. The former is a soldier whose military career ended when he lost his left hand. He replaced it with a removable spike--good for fighting--and a hook--good for working. Baltasar meets Blimunda at an auto-da-fe where her mother is condemned to exile for witchcraft.

Blimunda is tall and fair and possesses a kind of magical X-ray vision. Baltasar and Blimunda are both ordinary and pure. They are passionately devoted to each other; their marriage is one of earthly sensuality and near-saintly fidelity. Most of the time, Baltasar works as an ox-cart drover at the Mafra project; it allows him and his wife to live in something better than extreme poverty. They are enlisted by a visionary priest, Father Lorenzo, who is trying to build a flying machine.

They help him put together the body, which resembles a giant bird. It lacks a flying element, however. After a four-year course of study at the University of Coimbra, Father Lorenzo returns, having discovered what is needed. It consists of human wills; and Blimunda goes to Lisbon where, assisted by the plague, she collects 2, wills in amber bottles.

The machine flies successfully but after Father Lorenzo and his two helpers land it on a mountain, the priest flees to Spain, fearing the Portuguese Inquisition. The machine remains where it is, and for many years--ending with one last flight--Baltasar and Blimunda interrupt their ordinary lives to make periodic visits to repair it. In a heavy world of squandered wealth, of back-breaking poverty, of ignorance and oppression and a messianic compulsion to build grim and elaborate monuments, liberation, lightness and flight are provided by human wills drawn to the sun.

It is a very playful image, and the author handles it without solemnity. What if, one day, Europe was to crack along the length of the Pyrenees, separating the Iberian peninsula? In Saramago's lovely fable, the new island is sent spinning, like a great stone raft, towards the Azores. While the authorities panic and tourists and investors flee, three men, two women and a dog are drawn together by portents that burden them with a bemusing sense of responsibility. One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the Kamchatka peninsula at the northeastern edge of Russia, two girls - sisters, eight and 11 - go missing.

In the ensuing weeks, then months, the police investigation turns up nothing. Echoes of the disappearance reverberate across a tightly woven community, with the fear and loss felt most deeply among its women. Taking us through a year in Kamchatka, Disappearing Earth enters with astonishing emotional acuity the worlds of a cast of richly drawn characters, all connected by the crime: a witness, a neighbor, a detective, a mother. Its throng of unforgettable characters includes academics and convicts, an American sportswriter, an elusive German novelist, and a teenage student and her widowed, mentally unstable father.

Barcelona, Just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his 11th birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother's face. To console his only child, Daniel's widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona's guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again.

In this "ingenious" novel New York Times by "one of Europe's most original and remarkable writers" Los Angeles Times , a proofreader's deliberate slip opens the door to romance-and confounds the facts of Portugal's past. It is the story of a boy growing up in the war-torn Jerusalem of the 40s and 50s in a small apartment crowded with books in 12 languages and relatives speaking nearly as many.

His mother and father, both wonderful people, were ill-suited to each other. When Oz was 12 and a half years old, his mother committed suicide - a tragedy that was to change his life. He leaves the constraints of the family and the community of dreamers, scholars, and failed businessmen to join a kibbutz. A brilliant skeptic, Jose Saramago envisions the life of Jesus Christ and the story of his Passion as things of this earth: A child crying, the caress of a woman half asleep, the bleat of a goat, a prayer uttered in the grayish morning light.

His idea of the Holy Family reflects the real complexities of any family, and, as only Saramago can, he imagines them with tinges of vision, dream, and omen. In September , John Steinbeck and his poodle, Charley, embarked on a journey across America, from small towns to growing cities to glorious wilderness oases.

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His keen ear for the transactions among people is evident, too, as he records the interests and obsessions that preoccupy the Americans he encounters along the way. Tariq Khan is a Pakistani born and raised in Norway. Alongside a flock of other streetwise young men, each looking for direction and each easily susceptible, Tariq finds his cause in the Muslim revival.

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Kipling's masterpiece Kim is his final and most famous work and one of the first and greatest espionage stories ever written. It explores the life of Kimball O'Hara, an Irish orphan who spends his childhood as a vagrant in Lahore. When he befriends an aged Tibetan lama his life is transformed as he is requested to accompany him on a mysterious quest to find the legendary River of the Arrow and achieve Enlightenment. Winner of the National Book Award, Gravity's Rainbow is a postmodern epic, a work as exhaustively significant to the second half of the 20th century as Joyce's Ulysses was to the first.

Its sprawling, encyclopedic narrative and penetrating analysis of the impact of technology on society make it an intellectual tour de force. Portugal, an amorous friar is pursued naked through the rubble-strewn streets of Lisbon; an enthusiastic procession of flagellants roars with pleasure over the damnation of adultery; a royal prince uses hapless sailors for target practice; and women dressed in colorful finery watch as lapsed converts and sorcerers are put to death by flames.

In the midst of the terrors of the Inquisition and the plague, a seemingly mismatched couple discovers the wonders of love. This poetic tale, graced with exquisite historical detail and full of magic and adventure, is a tapestry of human folly and human will. The best-loved of all of the great Jose Saramago's works, this novel radiates with achievement. Any additional comments? This is a very memorable story if read in Portuguese but understandably hard to get into if you are not immersed in the Portuguese ethos.

I was disappointed with the clinical quality of the translation but could have dealt with that. In a book such as this, which manages to run the gamut of the language's poetic edge, it is rare to find the skill set required to produce an equally nuanced version in another language. What really killed the joy for me was the choice of narrator.

This person not only has no knowledge of Portuguese, she had no coaching whatever. Oh, the nouns When you hear a narration of a translated work, you expect the nouns to be pronounced somewhat accurately. She shreds them all with abandon. She is clueless with a vengeance. She is not shy about her utter ignorance or inaptitude to narrate even in English. This is an insulting narration, if that is possible.

I want my credit back. No fault to the author or even the translator there were parts of the story so poorly narrated they seemed a tedious listen. However, I also have a hard copy of this book and reviewing the same sections, i found them interesting and engaging. Never have I encountered such a poor read. A disservice to Saramago, Pontiero and the rest of us as listeners. What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you? A different narrator.

What do you think your next listen will be? I have several in my library to which I have not yet listened. I have many many books in mind for listening. Her weak voice. Her attempt to simulate character voices destroyed the flow of the story. Male and female switches were cringe-making. This kind of phony drama was totally unnecessary. Saramago's prose is considered rather good, don't you think?

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Her dramatic skills are nil. I could not listen for more than 10 mins before shutting off. Since I liked the story, I kept convincing myself that she was not as bad as I remembered.