Seeing Red by Lina Meruane

Translated by Megan McDowell

Synopsis:

25330335This powerful, profound autobiographical novel describes a young Chilean writer recently relocated to New York for doctoral work who suffers a stroke, leaving her blind and increasingly dependent on those closest to her. Fiction and autobiography intertwine in an intense, visceral, and caustic novel about the relation between the body, illness, science, and human relationships.

Review:

This book showed no mercy and clawed into my brain. The prose is relentless, the story is haunting, and the fact that Seeing Red is an autobiographical novel makes the main character’s anguish all the more real.

Lina has diabetes and has been told for a long time that one wrong move, one sudden swish of her head could rupture the veins in her retina, rendering her blind. And that’s what happens.

And then a firecracker went off in my head. But no, it was no fire I was seeing, it was blood spilling out inside my eye. The most shockingly beautiful blood I have ever seen. The most outrageous. The most terrifying. The blood gushed, but only I could see it. With absolute clarity I watched as it thickened, I saw the pressure rise, I watched as I got dizzy, I saw my stomach turn, saw that I was starting to retch, and even so. I didn’t straighten up or move an inch, didn’t even try to breathe while I watched the show. Because that was the last thing I would see, that night, through that eye: a deep, black blood.

Her new-ish boyfriend gets thrown into the role of caregiver, making sure that her insulin is drawn up correctly and that she walks down the street in a straight line. Her parents are an ocean away and predictably worried, running up her phone bill. And Lina herself has to connect with the world in a whole new way – packing a suitcase by touch instead of sight, counting steps so she doesn’t trip or smash into walls.

Lina, he sighed, immersed in a sudden sadness or shyness. Lina, now even softer, holding my chin, his slimy eyes everywhere: you’re blind, you’re blind and dangerous. Yes, I replied, slowly. Yes, but I’m only an apprentice blind woman and I have very little ambition in the trade, and yes, almost blind and dangerous.

I absolutely love Meruane’s writing. It’s relentless, not stopping for quotation marks or even paragraph breaks. It is fully from Lina’s blind head, with more references to sound and smell than her remembered sight.

It wasn’t minutes but rather hours, days, months in that waiting room, with its constant crossing and uncrossing of legs, its dragging of shoes toward the bathroom and its plopping into dilapidated chairs.

Lina tore at my heart. I sat with her in too quiet rooms, absorbed diagnoses and endless insurance forms and the horror of it all. It’s not a story I will easily forget.

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