“For money does not always keep its value, unlike mankind, whose value is always the same, everything and nothing.”
José Saramago Baltasar and Blimunda
I came to the last paragraph late at night. I shut the the book and wept, opened the book again, reread the last paragraph, closed it, held it my hands for a moment and went straight to bed. I fell into a deep sweet sleep.
There are some books that move you to remember the time in your life when you didn’t even ask the question, “is it all just bullshit?” never mind the time when you answered it. Baltasar and Blimunda is such a book. It is kindness, innovation, mystery and love captured in a story of the Portuguese Royal Court, peasants and priests. A wonderful book.
I had previously read The Radetzky Waltz which was also a very good book: the pace and expression of monotony in the repressed and fading lives of the multi-generational Von Trotta family within the fading Austro-Hungarian Empire. Told with tenderness and written with humor – like Zweig, Roth has a sophisticated understanding of the humor and sense of the absurdity that touches all aspects of life (see They Shoot Readers Don’t They?). But Baltasar and Blimunda touched me deeper.
Sometimes it is hard to know whether one is ready to start another book. Almost like drinking a gulp of water too soon after enjoying the lingering flavor of something delicious in your mouth. But I was working today and so brought along A Visit From the Goon Squad. I was assigned to a boy who was actually absent. I had to go to his classes and take notes and write down his homework assignments. As it turned out I spent half the day in teacher’s room because “he” had gym or was reviewing for a quiz (Spanish), or watching the film Powers of Ten (science), so the teachers told me I didn’t have to stay as there were no notes to take.
I felt a little rejected because I didn’t have anywhere to go and also I wouldn’t have minded sitting in a Spanish class or watching a science film, although I have already seen Powers of Ten, (a Charles and Ray Eames film that is very cool, a few years ago my daughter and I got a little obsessed and watched a whole series of their short films).
The point is, I ended up having a lot of time to read. I am half way into the book now. Maybe it was the atmosphere of where I was reading, but I left work flat out exhausted from sitting on my ass all day in a windowless room reading a good but depressing book.
I don’t read as much modern literature as I do classic or period works, maybe the emptiness and sadness of our current world is a tad too in my face for me to seek it out in novels. Or maybe it is only because I was too recently affected by Baltasar and Blimunda: swept away in a feeling of something lovely and good in the world (which is of course just as sad then as now, and likewise probably just as good and beautiful now as then). But the gratuitous crassness of a lot of modern fiction often leaves me feeling icky.
I can’t decide if it enhances or disturbs (maybe both) the story by reading it in an atmosphere where the sentences on the page are interspersed with bits and pieces of the conversations that surround me: “bread bowls of chili,” “fire killed the whole family,” “calories.” “going to the gym,” ” one more whopper” “the weather!” ” ice cream cake because that’s what I want.” Sometimes it all fits too perfectly. I thought I was worn out for the day, but I took a walk and the silly puffiness of the clouds cheered me up. I’m ready for the next 100 pages. Bring it on.