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Blindness, by Jose Saramago

By driph in Culture
Sun May 13, 2001 at 12:11:59 AM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)
Books

Written by Portuguese author Jose Saramago, the 1998 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Blindness is a tale that takes us through the depths and heights of humanity. The novel follows a group of nameless strangers, thrown together by misfortune and circumstance, as they attempt to make their way through a world where everyone has gone blind.

The short version of this review: Buy this book and read it.


The green light came on at last, the cars moved off briskly, but then it became clear that not all of them were equally quick off the mark. The car at the head of the middle lane has stopped, there must be some mechanical fault, a loose accelerator pedal, a gear lever that has stuck, problem with the suspension, jammed brakes, breakdown in the electric circuit, unless he has simply run out of gas, it would not be the first time such a thing has happened. The next group of pedestrians to gather at the crossing see the driver of the stationary car wave his arms behind the windshield, while the cars behind him frantically sound their horns. Some drivers have already got out of their cars, prepared to push the stranded vehicle to a spot where it will not hold up the traffic, they beat furiously on the closed windows, the man inside turns his head in their direction, first to one side then the other, he is clearly shouting something, to judge by the movements of his mouth he appears to be repeating some words, not one word but three, as turns out to be the case when someone finally manages to open the door, I am blind.
I am blind. Somebody please help me, I am blind! Imagine the feeling. One moment you are fine, going about your daily routine. You've left work early, hoping to catch your wife at home. Suddenly, your vision is filled entirely with a white luminescence. Not the darkness one would normally associate with blindness, but a whiteness. You panic. What is happening to me? Where is my home? How can I find my way home? A stranger offers to drive you to your apartment, then offers to stay with you as you wait for your wife to arrive. You refuse, fearful. After leaving you at the door of your home, the stranger steals your car. The day progresses and others are struck blind, just as sudden and without warning as you were. Your wife. The car thief. A policeman. The blindness spreads rapidly. An emergency is declared, and the first of those to lose their sight are rounded up and placed in an unused mental hospital, guarded by the military, left to their own devices, quarantined to prevent an outbreak of the epidemic, this "white sickness." But it is too late. Soon, the entire city, perhaps the world, has gone blind. All except one.

This book paints an unabashed view of the harrowing depths man can reach when desperate and unhindered by society. Life within the mental facility becomes harsh and unsanitary. Fights break out between the quarantined inmates, and factions are formed. The soldiers on the outside, in fear of going blind themselves, do not dare enter, leaving only containers of food at the halfway point between the hospital and the exterior fence, shooting all inmates who happen to stumble beyond that point. Soon, as the soldiers numbers being to dwindle, even the food deliveries cease. The inmates struggle for survival, not knowing whether life goes on outside the guarded fences, or in what form.

Saramago writes in a style that could be considered raw output, abandoning rules of punctuation and order. Conversation, narration, and even author's notes are weaved together in chaotic sentences that can fill entire pages. While disconcerting to some readers, Saramago's unabashed style (brilliantly translated by longtime collaborator Giovanni Pontiero, who died as he was finishing the translation) gives one the feeling of a firsthand account of the events, adding to the realism and tension of the novel. His characters are never named, only referred to as the first blind man, the doctor, or the girl with dark glasses, allowing us to fill in the spaces.

From its most sordid and despicable, to unimaginable acts of selflessness in the face of despair, Saramago strips humanity to the core, candidly revealing both the darkness and light within. Blindness is a book that will leave you thinking long after you've turned the final page.

Would you survive?

Buy this book at Fatbrain or Amazon.

Blindness
by Jose Saramago, Giovanni Pontiero(Translator)
Published by Harvest Books
ISBN: 0156007754

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Blindness, by Jose Saramago | 36 comments (33 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Plauges (4.00 / 2) (#2)
by CheSera on Sat May 12, 2001 at 02:31:04 PM EST

This sounds really intresting. I've always been intrested in the idea of watching/examining a culture or society crumble during times of stress, especially those brought upon by a natural disaster. (Morbid, I know) Plauge seems to be the natural fear for this sort of cultural failure. Natural disasters aside from illness can be overcome by gathering together after all. Since disease can be spread by people in groups it can quickly begin to dissolve the social ties that bind us together.

The first book I read that got me started thinking about this was King's The Stand. Although it had a pretty mystical bent to it, it still had an intresting amount of social analysis in it. I'll probably pick this book up next time i'm in Barnes & Noble or browsing FatBrain. Thanks for the review!


============
**TATDOMAW**
============

The Trigger Effect (none / 0) (#31)
by jabber on Mon May 14, 2001 at 01:40:31 PM EST

If you haven't already, see The Trigger Effect

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

I notice he is Portuguese (none / 0) (#3)
by John Milton on Sat May 12, 2001 at 02:47:14 PM EST

Southern American authors tend to have a more European style. Their works can be very realistic. At least that is my experience. Americans tend to have a more surrealistic, one step back style.


"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton


Eh... Portugal is in Europe, not South America. (5.00 / 2) (#4)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sat May 12, 2001 at 03:30:34 PM EST

Just when I was regaining some hope on USians' geography knowledge...

--em
[ Parent ]

pot. kettle. black. (5.00 / 2) (#5)
by kaboom on Sat May 12, 2001 at 03:49:52 PM EST

Just when I was regaining some hope on USians' geography knowledge...

Heh. If you'd bothered to look, you would have seen that the guy claiming Portugese are South Americans is from the UK.

Of course, I also found his assertion that American authors are more surreal than South American authors somewhat amusing. See Gabrial Garcia Marquez, or Jorge Borges, or....

[ Parent ]

Actually I am USian (none / 0) (#11)
by John Milton on Sat May 12, 2001 at 10:59:49 PM EST

Correction: My email address is in the UK. I am in the US. False assumption. I'm not offended by that. I wouldn't want to live there, but I would like to visit some time. In all fairness to the British, I can't let you perpetuate the myth that I am one. By the way, yes I am stupid. When ever I think of Portuguese I automatically think of Brazil. Stupid of me! Bleh! It will take me a while to live this one down.

I'll be the first one to admit that I don't have a lot of experience with Southern American writing. So I don't know about Marquez or Borges. Surreal was perhaps not the best word. What I mean is that American tend to make unrealistic everyone is superman novels.

It is better to be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. I should mention that at the time I posted this I had just finished mowing the lawn and was a bit tired. It's no excuse. I know.


"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton


[ Parent ]
Portuguese... (4.00 / 1) (#12)
by driph on Sat May 12, 2001 at 11:41:10 PM EST

That's alright, when I first read of him I assumed that since it was Portuguese, he was from Brazil. So yer not the only one. :]

--
Vegas isn't a liberal stronghold. It's the place where the rich and powerful gamble away their company's pension fund and strangle call girls in their hotel rooms. - Psycho Dave
[ Parent ]
Why ? (5.00 / 1) (#22)
by camadas on Sun May 13, 2001 at 09:51:29 PM EST

"I assumed that since it was Portuguese, he was from Brazil."
Essa deve ser das coisas mais estúpidas que já li.
But then again, since you're writing in english, i'll assume you're all british here.

[ Parent ]
Agreed (none / 0) (#23)
by driph on Sun May 13, 2001 at 11:00:36 PM EST

Essa deve ser das coisas mais estúpidas que já li.
Trust me, stick around long enough and you'll get to hear me say even stupider things. :]

It was stupid of me to originally think Saramago hailed from Brazil, the reasoning was a combination of first reading about his books on Brazilian sites, and my knowing several Portuguese speakers in Brazil, but none from Portugal.

Of course, I found out Saramago was actually Portuguese before I even started reading the book, but my original assumption upon first hearing of him was a false one.

--
Vegas isn't a liberal stronghold. It's the place where the rich and powerful gamble away their company's pension fund and strangle call girls in their hotel rooms. - Psycho Dave
[ Parent ]

Actually an easy mistake when you think about it. (none / 0) (#26)
by John Milton on Sun May 13, 2001 at 11:59:04 PM EST

The average North American is more likely to meet a Portuguese speaker from Brazil that from Portugal. I've always gotten the two confused. I remember Brazil because it is one of the few Southern American countries that doesn't speak Spanish. I believe that is because of the Line of Demarcation. The pope divided the new world between Portugal and Spain. Portugal got screwed in that deal.


"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton


[ Parent ]
Meaningless statistic (3.00 / 1) (#33)
by ucblockhead on Tue May 15, 2001 at 06:25:36 PM EST

This month's "Economist" had a chart ranking the largest economies in the world, factoring in "buying power" (i.e., the fact that things are cheaper in poor countries.) Brazil was number eight. In both that measure, and in the more tradition straight GDP measure, it has a much larger economy than Portugal.

Given that it also has a bigger population, I think it is safe to say that the parent has eclipsed the child.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Not that outlandish, given that... (none / 0) (#30)
by ucblockhead on Mon May 14, 2001 at 01:21:07 PM EST

there are more Portuguese speakers in Brazil than in Portugal.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Ouch! (none / 0) (#9)
by John Milton on Sat May 12, 2001 at 10:44:21 PM EST

Crap! Egg on my face. For some reason I got Brazilian stuck in my mind. They are descended from Portuguese Bah! Don't claim it's never happened to you.

Doh!


"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton


[ Parent ]
An illustration of american geography :-) (5.00 / 1) (#32)
by henrik on Tue May 15, 2001 at 02:51:50 PM EST

I saw the funniest picture today - it fits well here :) The World According to America

-henrik

Akademiska Intresseklubben antecknar!
[ Parent ]

Inaccurate. (none / 0) (#34)
by ucblockhead on Tue May 15, 2001 at 06:30:51 PM EST

That map is no longer accurate. The "Here be something else" should be "that place where they voted them people off the island".
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Neato (none / 0) (#7)
by 0xdeadbeef on Sat May 12, 2001 at 05:39:12 PM EST

A work of science fiction won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Never thought I'd see the day...

Science Fiction (none / 0) (#8)
by Afty on Sat May 12, 2001 at 07:47:42 PM EST

I haven't read it, but this doesn't look at all sci-fi to me.

Seems to be just a standard tale of potential social consequences of unforeseen events.

Fiction? Yes
Science? No?

[ Parent ]
Nobel given to author, not work (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by dhartung on Sun May 13, 2001 at 03:51:49 PM EST

Actually, the Nobel Prize for Literature is awarded to an author, not for a particular work.

The official press release mentions his entire body of work, not especially highlighting Blindness; if anything, the work they point out is a much earlier one, Balthasar and Blimunda.

This is not the first time that the Nobels have gone to a fantasist, however. From Gunter Grass to Seamus Heaney to Garcia Marquez, many of the best literature has elements of fantasy.
-- Before the Harper's Index: the Harper's Hash Table
[ Parent ]

Sorry, not SF (none / 0) (#24)
by Kyobu on Sun May 13, 2001 at 11:19:45 PM EST

It's not science fiction, except in the very narrow sense that it describes events that are not strictly realistic. Actually, it's existentialist, and has certain strong parallels to Camus's The Plague, both in subject matter and in treatment. It also has some Magical Realist qualities, I think, coming back to Europe from Latin America. However, not much happens in it that's impossible, except that there's a mysterious disease that makes people blind. Some of the most striking existentialist aspects are results of the anonymity of the whole story--nobody has a name, and the town is unnamed, as are the country and even continent the story occurs on. Saramago is uninterested, unlike a science fiction author, in the details of the disease, but merely uses it as a method for exploring the results of blindness and plague. I liked the book a lot when I read it a couple years ago, and I found that reading The Plague helped my understanding of it.

[ Parent ]
Sci Fi is pretty goofy term (none / 0) (#35)
by khallow on Fri May 18, 2001 at 09:21:24 PM EST

When a story has massive world changing events like this, it's the realm of "Science Fiction". Most science fiction never had much to do with "science". OTOH, why strain myself to put this book in a category when it would be so much better on my shelf? :-)

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Anyone else think.... (4.00 / 3) (#13)
by zakalwe on Sun May 13, 2001 at 06:32:16 AM EST

The novel follows a group of nameless strangers, thrown together by misfortune and circumstance, as they attempt to make their way through a world where everyone has gone blind.
Yes, but are there any giant killer plants?

Killer plants? (2.00 / 1) (#14)
by driph on Sun May 13, 2001 at 07:04:08 AM EST

Yes, but are there any giant killer plants?
There's only one, and its name is Audrey II, but the scene where it rampages across the town destroying everything was cut out of the final version due to audience reactions.

--
Vegas isn't a liberal stronghold. It's the place where the rich and powerful gamble away their company's pension fund and strangle call girls in their hotel rooms. - Psycho Dave
[ Parent ]
Yes, I did (none / 0) (#17)
by yooden on Sun May 13, 2001 at 02:14:23 PM EST

But I think the "All except one." part makes it very different. Also, while The Other Book is nice and fun, it's hardly Nobel prize material.

[ Parent ]
Spot that reference (none / 0) (#27)
by core10k on Mon May 14, 2001 at 12:33:44 AM EST

_Exactly_ what I was thinking. This book sounds like it's ripping off the premise of a classic, wholesale. Others seem to think it's a Little Shop of Horrors allusion, but I know what you're talking about.

Ahh... as to the movie version; I can hear the clicking sounds in my mind's eye right now.



[ Parent ]
The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (none / 0) (#15)
by danny on Sun May 13, 2001 at 08:30:22 AM EST

The only Saramago I've read is The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. That was pretty impressive - it tells the story of Jesus from birth to crucifixion, but it's hardly traditional, more magic realist.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]

more Saramago (none / 0) (#16)
by driph on Sun May 13, 2001 at 11:30:28 AM EST

I actually checked your site for a review before I purchased Blindness. I picked up copies of Baltasar and Blimunda and The History of the Siege of Lisbon over the weekend... just started reading the first, but so far it's just as good, yet an entirely different kind of novel.

I've heard Gospel is good as well, if you enjoyed it you should definately read Blindness, and you may also like The History of the Siege of Lisbon, a "multifaceted tableau involving meditations on historiography, the uses and abuses of language, and life under authoritarian rule." Sounds like it's gonna be a great read.

--
Vegas isn't a liberal stronghold. It's the place where the rich and powerful gamble away their company's pension fund and strangle call girls in their hotel rooms. - Psycho Dave
[ Parent ]

too much to read! (none / 0) (#36)
by danny on Sun May 20, 2001 at 07:17:45 AM EST

I sometimes think there should be a moratorium on publishing new books so I can catch up with the backlog :-).

I've spent the last few days improving the website, by the way - I'm now using subtitles/taglines in the indices, and I've broken up the subject index a bit.

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

Similar Style (none / 0) (#18)
by yooden on Sun May 13, 2001 at 02:21:32 PM EST

I haven't read 'Blindness', but the description of the style reminds me of 'Die Stalinorgel' and 'Vergeltung', the most harrowing descriptions of war I know.
If they are not published in your language of choice, ask your publisher for the translation.

blindness is part of a triology (4.00 / 2) (#19)
by pedromorais on Sun May 13, 2001 at 03:17:34 PM EST

Hi from Portugal!
Some stuff you might want to know:
The original title of this book, in Portuguese, is "Ensaio sobre a Cegueira", which could be translated as "Essay about Blindness"
This is the first book on a triology of book about modern society. If you like this one, read the other two:
  • Todos os Nomes ("all the names") The story of lonely man who works in the people's registry; a story about the importance of trivial quests on our life.
  • A Caverna ("the cave") The only book Saramago released after the Nobel Prize; probably not it translated into English. A strong criticism on modern, consumer, society. About leaving our roots and becoming the same as everyone else.

I can assure you that both endings will leave you thinking for a long time....

Looks like Todos os Nomes is on the way.. (none / 0) (#21)
by driph on Sun May 13, 2001 at 05:45:29 PM EST

Thanks for the information! Your comment prompted me to do a bit of searching, and I came upon a paper written by his new translator, Margaret Jull Costa. Very interesting reading.

At the time of the article, she was in the process of translating Todos os Nomes, and actually includes a page or so worth of text from the book to illustrate Saramago's writing style, and the difficulties it leads to in translation, especially concerning his unusual sentence structure and punctuation. Also, more information on Saramago himself can be found here.

--
Vegas isn't a liberal stronghold. It's the place where the rich and powerful gamble away their company's pension fund and strangle call girls in their hotel rooms. - Psycho Dave
[ Parent ]

Read this book! (none / 0) (#25)
by yuri on Sun May 13, 2001 at 11:56:14 PM EST

I read this book over the christmas holidays and found it to be very realistic. The take home message I got from it is that our civilisation or society is really paper thin. It can easily be torn apart by minor disturbances. In the novel, all of society falls apart when everyone turns blind.

Our lives, as we live them now, are fragile, false entities. We could easily be thrown into situations with no structured culture on a moments notice. Our world is fragile and should not be taken for granted.

Just look at history and you will know this to be true.....the dinosaurs, egyptians, romans, mayans, dotcoms etc. all had their seemingly perpetual worlds fall apart.

Our existance is equally fragile.

Great book..even for a translation.

Yuri

Minor disturbances ? (none / 0) (#28)
by uXs on Mon May 14, 2001 at 07:31:49 AM EST

"The take home message I got from it is that our civilisation or society is really paper thin. It can easily be torn apart by minor disturbances. In the novel, all of society falls apart when everyone turns blind."

Um, the entire human race turning blind essentially overnight doesn't really look like a minor disturbance to me... :-)
Other than that, I can't but agree with you: isn't it said that civilisation is only 3 missed meals away from total collapse ?

uXs

(damn, I'm hungry... :-))

--
What our ancestors would really be thinking, if they were alive today, is: "Why is it so dark in here?" -- (Terry Pratchett, Pyramids)
[ Parent ]
Intriguing (none / 0) (#29)
by jd on Mon May 14, 2001 at 10:56:52 AM EST

Sounds like a cross between "Day of the Triffids" and "Lord of the Flies".

That doesn't mean it's not a good book in its own right. Stories should ALWAYS be read on their own merits, otherwise what's the point? Every possible "storyline" has already been written. What makes writing an "art" is how the author has blended those ideas together.

Blindness, by Jose Saramago | 36 comments (33 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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