!!!! Spoilers Ahead!!!!
I had diligently followed the idea of Women in Translation Month in August and the last book in my list was the intensely terrifying Seeing Red by Chilean author, Lina Meruane.
(On a side note: Click here and see the other books that were part of my Women in Translation month)
Translated from Spanish Megan McDowell, Seeing Red, narrates the story of Lucina, a Chilean national, who moved to New York and is pursuing her PhD. One night at a party, something strange – yet something that she has been forewarned about – happens!
Her eyes haemmorage; blood gushes through her veins in her eyes leaving her vision clouded. She returns home with her partner, Ignacio, trying to make sense of this new reality. The months that follow show Lucina navigating through this new found blindness: they move to a new place and she tries to orient herself there, she goes back to Chile for a vacation where her relatives provide her with unsolicited advice about her impending eye operation. Even her parents who are themselves doctors, are stunned by Lucina’s illness.
While in Chile though, it is Lucina who becomes Ignacio’s eyes and helps him get around Santiago and other places through the numerous markers and landmarks she remarkably remembers. Ignacio is metaphorically blind in Chile, a place he considers too cold and too peculiar.
The unique writing style, that is fast paced, employed makes sure that the reader is stamped with a sense of dizziness. The narrative seamlessly changes from Lina’s own thoughts to conversation between her and others. None of these conversations use quotation marks or any other normative editorial marks. Thus the reader is not pausing, not slowing down and that in turn creates the overwhelming feeling that floods Lucina as well. Often, the author fragments her sentences that further that sense of dizziness.
But what precisely is this dizziness?
At the start of Seeing Red itself, the reader knows about Lucina’s eyes getting damages and hence the reader is plunged right into the problem and has to make sense of this partial vision as much as Lucina. It is a frightening prospect and we get frightened. We struggle. We also see vague outlines of cars, people, steps, and of Santiago. Though we do see Santiago through the double lens of Ignacio and Lucina.
The fragmented sentences often mimic the realistic, stammered way in which we do occasionally speak out especially when it comes to expressing uncertainty, fear and doubt which is exactly what Lucina and Ignacio are faces with: the uncertainty of Lucina’s operation and its success or worse, it’s failure.
Lucina now has to prepare for a possible onset of blindness, whereas Ignacio has to make peace with the fact that he now has to be literally (as Lucina asks him a horrifying favour) and metaphorically Lucina’s eyes.
These various possibilities is what is dizzying for both the reader and the characters.
The devastating ending jars the very soul, adds to the uncertainty and dizziness, leaves us suspended with the same utterly frightened feeling of the beginning. This effect is further captured by the subtle technique where the narrative is narrated to Ignacio in retrospect. Lucina is recalling what has happened and she drops those hints quietly. Therefore, though the ending is ambiguous, this recalling, this seeing through Ignacio’s own visual memories could suggest a definitive and catastrophic consequence for Lucina.
For once I agree with one of the blurbs on the book: nerve jangling.
And it truly is that.
It is horrific to visually see and feel the blood, feel Lucina’s pain and Ignacio’s paradoxical doubts and support.
Seeing Red is a visceral story that stays and slays.