'Seeing Red': Strong writing offers insight into world of blindness

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Chilean author Lina Meruane’s startling English language debut “Seeing Red” is about a writer suffering from an illness that leaves her blind, but it’s also about so much more: the struggle to maintain our sense of self when our physical body denies us; the frustrations that occur when we, once independent and strong, are forced to rely on loved ones to perform the most menial tasks.

It’s a startling, honest portrayal of one woman’s descent into blindness and depression, and the lines of love that float out toward her, “spiraling and elastic,” that she pushes away, and slowly learns to reach toward.

The narrator is Lina (sometimes called Lucina) and her difficulty balancing her illness and her career as a successful academic and writer carefully mirrors the author’s own struggles: Also named Lina (Lucina), the author suffered a long-expected stroke in her early 30s (“They’d been warning me about it for a long time ...”), which nearly left her blind.

“Seeing Red,” to be clear, is a work for fiction, but autobiographical fiction. The focus of the novel is rooted in truth, and Meruane takes these incidences — frustrating volleys back and forth between doctors; a trip from NYC to home in Santiago, where she is overwhelmed by well-meaning but misguided family; the friends who promise to visit but never do; the lover who wants to remain by her side though she pushes him away — and expands them, twists them, explores them with the poetic language of an award-winning author in order to convey the emotional truth: to allow readers, ill and well, sighted and blind, insight into this word.

Part meditation, part thriller, “Seeing Red” is a remarkable work showcasing the talents of a fine writer.

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