Seeing Red

Seeing Red

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By Lina Meruane
Translated by Megan McDowell

A visceral, moving, haunting English-language debut examines illness, the body, and human relationships by one of Chile's brightest young authors.

“Lina Meruane’s prose has great literary force: it emerges from the hammer blows of conscience, but also from the ungraspable and from pain.” —Roberto Bolaño

Publication Date: February 23, 2016

Paperback: 9781941920244
eBook: 9781941920251


This 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.

Biographical Note

Lina Meruane is one of the most prominent female voices in Chilean contemporary narrative. A novelist, essayist, and cultural journalist, she is the author of a host of short stories that have appeared in various anthologies and magazines in Spanish, English, German and French. She has also published a collection of short stories, Las Infantas (Chile 1998, Argentina 2010), as well as three novels, Póstuma (Chile 2000, Portugal 2001), Cercada (Chile 2000) and Fruta Podrida (Chile & México 2007). The latter won the Best Unpublished Novel Prize awarded by Chile’s National Council of the Culture and the Arts in 2006. She is the winner of the Anna Seghers Prize, awarded to her by the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, Germany, 2011. Meruane received the prestigious Mexican Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize in 2012 with the publication of her most recent novel, Sangre en el ojo (Seeing Red). Meruane has received writing grants from the Arts Development Fund of Chile (1997), the Guggenheim Foundation (2004) and National Endowment for the Arts (2010). Meruane is a cultural journalist, columnist and stringer for written media and currently serves as editor of Brutas Editoras, an independent publishing house located in New York City. Holder of a Ph.D. in Latin American Literature from New York University, Meruane currently teaches World and Latin American Literature and Creative Writing at NYU.

Megan McDowell is a literary translator of many modern and contemporary South American authors, including Alejandro Zambra, Arturo Fontaine, Carlos Busqued, Álvaro Bisama, and Juan Emar. Her translations have been published in The New Yorker, McSweeney's, Words Without Borders, Mandorla, and Vice, among others. She lives in Santiago, Chile, and New York.


One of Literary Hub’s “13 Translated Books by Women You Should Read”
Nominated for the Edinburgh Book Festival First Book Award 2017
One of Publishers Weekly’s “10 Essential 21st-Century Spanish-Language Books”
An Entropy Magazine “Best of 2016: Fiction Books” selection
Included in World Literature Today‘s “75 Notable Translations of 2016”
A Foreword Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Selection for “14 Favorites of 2016”
Author Lina Meruane was interviewed by Latin American Literature Today on "Sickness as Normality"

“Blurring the lines between fiction and memoir, Meruane’s first novel translated into English explores mortality, identity, and personal transformation. . . . This is a penetrating autobiographical novel, and for English-Language readers this work serves as a stunning introduction to a remarkable author.” Publishers Weekly

“Astonishing…Meruane’s authorial gaze is unflinching. . . . Lina resists all attempts to corral her into victimhood and insists on wielding her agency like a weapon…Seeing Red becomes a searing commentary on the limits of family relationships and the cruelty that, under duress, we are capable of exerting on those we love.” —Charlotte Whittle, Los Angeles Times

“New York and her home town, Santiago, are described in prose that blends sensation with memory, fury with fear. The story reveals its truths through immediacy of description—viscous, repulsive, and beautiful.” The New Yorker

“Perfect memory notwithstanding, blindness has affected Lina’s relationships, especially the one with Ignacio, whom she alternately leans on, loves and envies for his undamaged eyes. These passages are the most uncomfortable to read because they show how truly vulnerable we are, how tightly bound is our sense of being physically whole to our sense of being being worthy and lovable.” —Beatriz Terrazas, The Dallas Morning News

“Intense, physical, flipping from sensual to gory, Seeing Red is a book about degeneration and offers an exhilarating “fresh eye”, as the author puts it, on what it is to be alive.” —Joanna Walsh, The National

“In an autobiographical work full of discomfort, Meruane spares nothing negative, and Seeing Red is astounding and essential for it.” —Greg Walklin, Colorado Review

“Meruane’s ability to take readers into the experience of sight loss is extraordinary. Her descriptions are fresh, immediate and memorable, inviting comparisons with passages from Nobel Prize winner José Saramago’s great novel Blindness.” —Ann Morgan, A Year of Reading the World

“Aided by the fine translation from Megan McDowell, newcomers to Meruane’s spare prose and caustic wit… will admire the strange force and clarity of this novel that is as painstaking as it is wryly painful.” —Forrest Roth, The Collagist

“A novel of genius and disturbing intelligence...” —Enrique Vila-Matas, Northwest Review of Books

“A raw, sexy, visceral and sometimes brutal account of a woman losing her sight and it explores the immediate effects on her relationships with her lover, family, surroundings and her own body with an unflinching gaze.” —Kirsty Mcluckie, The Scotsman

“From this moment of darkness, the narrative hurtles forward, obsessed by Lina’s physical and emotional pains, which are examined with a vibrant, Kahloesque fascination. The narrative is also interested in how Lina’s pain stretches out, changing her relationships with the objects and people around her.” —M. Lynx Qualey, Electric Lit

“An intriguing short novel . . . A female writer who is losing her sight probes the meaning of language, genre, and the reader’s expectations. . . . Meruane fashions a challenging metafiction that ventures into fresh and provocative places.” Kirkus Reviews

Seeing Red is the triumphant realization of a stunning artistic vision, a novel as black and bitter and bloody (and beautiful) as its central conceit. It’s a novel that’s hard to describe. But you know it’s great when you read it.” —Aaron Bady, The Nation

“Susan Sontag famously wrote that there are only two nations: the one of the healthy and the one of the sick. Meruane’s corrosive writing is a meditation on a soul blinded not by illness, but by the peculiar destructive spirit produced by self-pity – that dark feeling familiar to any who has suffered their own body’s treason. In other words, all of us. Seeing Red’s spine is a deliciously perverse love story, loaded with surprising, sickening, wonderful erotic material centred in the eyeballs.” —Álvaro Enrigue, author of Sudden Death, for TANK Magazine‘s 2016 Summer Reading List

“Blindness, both physical and metaphysical, is where Chilean writer Lina Meruane begins Seeing Red, her English language debut. In it, past, present, and future tumble over each other with bloody repetition. From beginning to end, the chaos of time swirls around each word on the page until, like a vaguely luminous mist, it disappears.” —Layne Hilyer, The Curator Magazine

“With propulsive language and hallucinatory verve, Lina Meruane explores the relationship between identity and illness. Shifting between New York City and Santiago, between the world of sight and blindness, SEEING RED is a masterclass in taut and poetic storytelling. What Meruane manages in 150 pages is simply miraculous.” —Mark Haber, Brazos Bookstore (Staff Pick)

“An unsettling and disquieting look at a woman’s descent into blindness . . . With a first-person narrative chronicling her own ocular decline, SEEING RED bears witness to the inter- and intrapersonal struggles that force the narrator to make sense of the relationships around her, all while relying upon those very people for support, aid, and comfort. Meruane’s gifted prose lends the story both immediacy and persuasiveness.” —Jeremy Garber, Powell’s Books, Portland, OR (Staff Pick)

“In this fierce work of autofiction, Meruane’s Lucina (sometimes called Lina) resists the passive position of patient with “an uppercase No,” and her anger allows a rare and powerful intimacy. Those hoping for a neat and satisfying resolution will be disappointed, but the true shape of illness is neither neat nor satisfying, and Seeing Red excels in expressing the full scale of the horror and essential uncertainty of being betrayed by one’s own body.” —Amy Berkowitz, author of Tender Points

“Meruane writes further into, rather than through or around, blindness. Her language pulses with the psychological terror of the body’s betrayal; it pulls at the seams of the self, unleashing something deep within. This is not a fictionalized memoir of transformation and recovery, but a book that burns in your hands, something sharp and terrifying that bites back.” —Anna Zalokostas, Full Stop

“Instead of a journey into blindness the immediacy of the situation makes it a journey into understanding and life beyond being able to see……at the core this really is a love story, an exploration of what it means to “unconditionally” love somebody, would a parent actually give up an eye for their child?” —Tony Messenger, Messengers Booker blog

“. . . Her compelling exploration of this rapid change of events for the young narrator is compelling and disconcerting all at once, making for a fascinating read.” The Culture Trip on naming Meruane as one of "Chile’s Top Ten Contemporary Writers"

“A bristling, staccato torrent of vivid imagery and psychological roilings . . . simultaneously disturbing and lyrical. …Translator Megan McDowell has an excellent ear for Meruane’s prose and skillfully exposes its darkly humorous veins. Seeing Red is a captivating, multilayered debut from a strong young writer.” —Rachel Jagareski, Foreword Reviews

“A brilliant exploration of the human condition and exercise in experimental prose. . . . a subversive and feminist text.” —Tara Cheesman-Olmsted, The Rumpus

“A vivid understanding of what it is like to lose one’s sight . . . Disturbing and uncomfortable but so worth the read.” —Melissa Beck, The Bookbinder’s Daughter

“Meruane is one of the one or two greats in the new generation of Chilean writers who promise to have it all.” —Roberto Bolaño

“Meruane’s writing is acid, so corrosive that sometimes sentences dissolve before meeting the end that they deserved.” —Álvaro Enrigue

“An overwhelming novel, formally brave (…) that balances with great talent the search of a personal language with narrative seduction” —Sor Juana Award jury

“A novel where not only the blood pouring from the eyes is palpitating; so is the quality of the literature.” El País

“A merciless book.” —Sylvia Molloy

“A powerful novel.“ —Federico Falcó

“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.” Always Doing

“An authentic novel written not from the edges, but from inside the sick body, with a powerful, intense narrator.” —Gustavo Pablos, Diario La Voz

“[Seeing Red] describes, through sight as metaphor, a world of uncertain horizons opposed to each other…Rather than as a victim, she portrays her narrator with a final effect that reminds the reader of the black humour literature of the last century.” —Stefano Gallerani, Italy

“This livewire of a novel bursts from the narrator’s blood flooded retina in front of our own eyes.” —Sofia Fara, Globooks

“Funny and frightening, a swift meditation on vision, memory, the human soul itself. Very cinematic in its execution, bold in its content, Seeing Red ultimately forces us to give good thought to the great wonder and blessing that is a properly functioning body.” On Art & Aesthetics

“In Lina Meruane’s searing autobiographical novel Seeing Red, the narrator describes what she saw during an ocular hemorrhage that rendered her blind… As she navigates this new, uncertain existence with her boyfriend—moving together to a new apartment in New York City, visiting family back in Santiago, and undergoing endless, inconclusive medical exams and procedures—Lina perseveres by force of will and a keen intuition that makes her aware of things she was incapable of knowing before she lost her sight.” Words Without Borders, Lori Feathers


It was happening. Right then, happening. They’d been warning me about it for a long time, and yet. I was paralyzed, my sweaty hands clutching at the air while the people in the living room went on talking, roaring with laughter—even their whispers were exaggerated, while I. And someone shouted louder than the rest, turn the music down, don’t make so much noise, or the neighbors’ll call the cops at twelve o’clock. I focused on that thundering voice, which never seemed to tire of repeating that the neighbors went to bed early even on Saturdays. Those gringos weren’t night owls like us, party people to the core. Good protestant folks, they would protest if we didn’t let them get to sleep. On the other side of the walls, above our bodies and under our feet, too, those gringos—so used to greeting dawn with their socks on and shoes already tied—were restless. Gringos who sit down in their impeccable underwear and ironed faces to eat their breakfasts of cereal with cold milk. But none of us worried about those sleepless people, their heads buried under pillows, their throats stuffed with pills that would bring no relief if we went on trampling their rest. If those in the living room went on trampling, not me. I was still in the bedroom, kneeling, my arm outstretched toward the floor. And in that instant, in that half-light, in that commotion, I found myself thinking of the neighbors’ unbearable vigil, imagining them turning out the lights after stuffing earplugs in their ears, pushing them in so firmly the silicone broke. I thought I would much rather have been the one with shattered earplugs sticking into my eardrums. I would have rather been the old woman who resolutely places the mask over her eyelids, only to yank it off again and switch on the light. I wanted that while my still-suspended hand encountered nothing. There was only the alcoholic laughter coming through the walls and spattering me with saliva. Only Manuela’s strident voice reprimanding the uproar for the umpteenth time, “Come on, guys, keep it down a little.” No, please don’t, I said to myself, keep talking, keep shouting, howl, growl if you must. Die laughing. That’s what I said to myself, my body seized up, though only a few seconds had passed. I had just come into the master bedroom, just leaned over to search for my purse and the syringe. I had to give myself an injection at twelve o’clock sharp, but this time I wouldn’t make it because the precariously balanced coats dropped my purse to the floor, because instead of stooping conscientiously, as I should have, I bent down and reached out to pick it up. And it was then that a firecracker went off in my head. But it wasn’t 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 was gushing, but only I could see it. With absolute clarity I saw how 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 even a millimeter, 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: an intensely black blood.