Blindness

by Jose Saramago

Paper Book, 1997

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

San Diego : Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999, c1997.

Description

"A city is struck by an epidemic of "white blindness." Authorities confine the blind to a vacant mental hospital secured by armed guards under instructions to shoot anyone trying to escape. Inside, the criminal element among the blind holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and assaulting women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers--among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears--through the barren streets, and the procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. A magnificent parable of loss and disorientation and a vivid evocation of the horrors of the twientieth century, Blindness is a powerful portrayal of man's worst appetites and weaknesses--and man's ultimately exhilarating spirit"--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Smiler69
Well, just finished Blindness in the last hour and am doing something I never do usually, which is skipping ahead of several books awaiting comments/reviews to put down my first impressions. I listened to the audiobook all the way through and read the last chapter from the physical book and was surprised to discover the way Saramago jumbled up all the dialogue and action into long running sentences. Confusing. The narrator did a really great job on the audio with a very sensitive and nuanced reading. What shocks me most about this book is that I did not hate it, and it did not make me feel depressed. Not even a little bit. I have a long history with this book, because it was first recommended to me several years ago by someone who is now an EX-friend. Long story, but he came to stay at my place as a guest for what I assumed was a few days, ended up staying 2.5 months, ate all my food, drank all my booze, ran surcharges on my internet connection, made long distance calls on my mobile phone, used up all my petty cash and left me alone and with an empty fridge during Christmas week. And the whole time, all he kept saying is "You'll understand everything when you read Blindness" and "You can only get the meaning of life by reading Blindness" and "this book has all the answers, read it". And so on, till the very last thing I felt like doing was to pick up Blindness of course. Then, in a funny twist of fate, I asked my fellow LTers to pick books for my 12/12 challenge, but my instruction was that they had to be picked at random with some system I had devised, and who should pick this book but a dear sweet lady who favours children's books and who I'm sure must have been taken aback when she saw what she'd landed for me.

So with all that history, I'm sure it's not too surprising that I was dreading this book. In fact, I was looking forward to it the way I'd look forward to having several teeth pulled without the benefit of local anaesthetic. Funny how anticipation colours so much of what we read. Expect to love a book to bits, and you're more often than not let down. Expect a book to take you to the depths of hell and despair, and you end up feeling like life, when you take a good look around and it's a beautiful sunny autumn day with a loving puppy by your side... really is generally really really good. I guess I just took it all as a parable and all the ugliness didn't phase very much because, I'm sorry to say it, but all too often, seen behind the veil of clinical depression that is my cross to bear, that is sort of the way I view humanity. I liked The Dog of Tears a lot and felt he brought an element of whimsy to the whole thing. And I loved the doctor's wife. Absolutely adored her. She seriously kicked ass and didn't let all the horrors get the better of her, though all the while she suffered through it and had what seemed like very genuine feelings and reactions. Somehow I was able to identify with her perfectly, which might be a bit brazen on my part; I haven't seen the movie, but the cover image of the audiobook shows the movie cast and I was imagining Julianne Moore the whole time, whom I of course ADORE. So yes, a bit presumptuous on my part to compare myself to that incredible lady. The ending was a complete surprise, so that really, the feeling I'm left with is similar to the feeling I had today; waking up grumpy, tired, having had strange and disturbing dreams and not wanting to engage with life and whatever obligations I had, only to discover that really, when you're able to really look around and SEE the world around you, there is so much beauty there to be found. And though my eyes and inner vision all too often make me see the ugliness and depravity that inhabits the human psyche, I'm also able to fly with the wind and ride on soft, cottony clouds and feel on top of the world because I've got a loving puppy who also licks my tears when I cry, which makes it all ok. All the same, I'm not recommending this book unless you're willing to look at the underbelly of humanity and accept that it is just as real as the sky above and the trees and the sunshine and laughter and forgetting.

I do realize this can't really be considered as a useful review, but there are plenty of those here I'm sure.
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LibraryThing member TadAD
I'm not sure that there's a whole lot I can say that won't be found many places about this copiously-reviewed book. The story follows the basic structure of a post-apocalyptic novel: a catatrophe strikes—in this case, an entire city (at least) is stricken blind—and the reader watches as well-ordered social interactions turn to fascism, then to barbarism and finally cease to function altogether. We follow a handful of individuals through the entire process, including the first man to be afflicted and a woman who is the only person in the story not to lose her sight, as they struggle first to cope with their situation and then to reclaim a bit of their humanity.

What makes this novel a bit different that most of this type is the way Saramago uses literary devices to draw the reader into the world of the blind. Individuals are not named; all are simply described by their role in the story..."the doctor's wife" or "the first man who went blind". Nor are they visually described except when being looked at by a sighted person who is actually concentrating on the way they look. We don't even know their nationality, though slight cultural clues would lead one to think western Europe. This gives everything a hazy overcast; we can't quite bring our identification into sharp focus.

Most notably, you can only tell who is speaking through concentration; you cannot tell who is speaking simply by looking for the usual visual clues we get in reading. There are no quotation marks; in fact, question marks and other punctuation beyond commas and periods are gone. Nor is dialog broken in paragraphs—a verbal interchange is almost always represented as a single, long sentence, with only capital letters and the rare "he said" to clue the reader that the voice is changing. For example, picking up in the middle of a conversation that has been going on:

..., How have you managed since the outbreak of the epidemic, We came out of internment only three days ago, Ah, you were in quarantine, Yes, Was it hard, Worse than that, How horrible, You are a writer, you have, as you said a moment ago, an obligation to know words, therefore you know that adjectives are of no use to use, if a person kills another, for example, it would better to state this fact openly, directly, and to trust that the horror of the act, in itself, is so shocking that there is no need for us to say it was horrible, Do you mean that we have more words than we need, I mean that we have too few feelings, Or that we have them but have ceased to use the words they express, And so we lose them, I'd like you to tell me how you lived during quarantine, Why, I am a writer, You would have to have been there, A writer is just like anyone else, he cannot know everything, nor can he experience everything, he must ask and imagine, One day I may tell you what it was like, then you can write a book, Yes, I am writing it, How, if you are blind, The blind too can write, You mean that you had time to learn the braille alphabet, I do not know braille, How can you write, then, asked the first blind man, Let me show you.

This is disconcerting at first, opaque and confusing, but you quickly learn to find other clues, "listening" intently to the threads of the conversation. I went from my usual dislike of an author who eschews quotes (it irked me, for example, in Solstad's Shyness and Dignity) to thinking it made this book work as well as it did.

It's easy to read this story as allegory for any one of a number of events of our times. However, it's not necessary to do so...the story is gripping enough to be read simply for its own sake, whether as political commentary or distopian science fiction.

Though I would not be comfortable saying this is one of the 10 Best Books of the Century (as I've heard some opine), I definitely give it a strong recommendation. I shall certainly avoid the movie for fear of spoiling it.
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LibraryThing member fyrefly98
Summary: An ordinary man is sitting at an ordinary traffic light when suddenly he goes blind - not a black darkness, but an all-pervasive whiteness. It turns out that this blindness is contagious, and it spreads through the city at a rapid pace. Fearing an epidemic, the government inters the blind people in an old mental hospital, hoping to quarantine the sickness. The story follows a group of blind prisoners, including a doctor who treated the first blind man, and his wife, who is somehow immune to the blindness, but must keep the fact that she is the only sighted person to herself, as more and more people are struck blind, and the rules that govern normal society fall apart faster and faster.

Review: I only got about 40% of the way through this book before I had to give it up. While I understand the point Saramago was trying to make about the fragility of society's rules and the more unpleasant aspects of human nature, the story was just too grim and too bleak for me. I don't require my literature to be all rainbows and puppies and people hugging all of the time; I'm capable of dealing with unpleasant topics and characters and behaviors. However, this book just felt like people being hopelessly, unrelentingly horrible to each other, and after a certain point, it stops feeling like examining the nastier side of human nature, and starts feeling like wallowing in the nastier side of human nature, which is not something I particularly enjoy. (Particularly when several people told me that I wasn't even to the *really* horrible parts of the book yet. No thank you.)

I had been listening to the audiobook, since lack of proper punctuation and undelineated dialogue annoys the heck out of me, and I'm more than happy to let the audiobook narrator do the heavy lifting of deciding who's speaking, and where the sentence breaks should be. After the horribleness got to be too much for me to listen to, I picked up the paper copy... for about two pages, until I came across three pages in a row with no paragraph breaks. Sorry; I'm sure this is a fine book of Serious Allegory and High Literary Merit, but it's just not for me.

Recommendation: Only for those whose tolerance levels for people being horrible to each other are a lot higher than mine.
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LibraryThing member phebj
This is a book that demands your attention--you have to struggle at times to understand what is going on. It’s the story of people in an unnamed city that mysteriously start to go blind until all but one person succumbs. The characters are never named, just described, and the narrative purposely makes it difficult to know who is speaking. The result is a sense of confusion and frustration that mimics what the characters are experiencing. This to me was the genius of the book.

The blurb on the back cover describes it as a “parable of loss and disorientation and a vivid evocation of the horrors of the twentieth century.” I was so focused on the plight of the seven main characters (who have to deal with the complete breakdown of their society) that it wasn’t until towards the end of the book that I started to look at the bigger picture.

In fact, it was actually while listening to an NPR interview with Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times reporter, who was talking about “compassion fatigue,” that a larger interpretation of the book came into focus for me (i.e. people being “blind” to the horrors of the 20th century). Kristof talked about how most people become overwhelmed at the idea of helping more than one person at a time with the result that events like the Darfur crisis are seemingly ignored by many people (i.e. they become “blind” to what is happening). Kristof also talked about how many of the people who lived during the 1930s and 40s said they didn’t know about the Holocaust. Research suggests, however, that even if more people had known about it, it wouldn’t have made any difference.

"Blindness" can be an unsettling book to read. With few exceptions, people revert to their baser instincts and it is “every man for himself.” If not for a leader who can see, the main characters would be lost. There is alot that is not explained but the ambiguity forces you to think about what the story means and as a result you find yourself thinking about it long after you’ve finished. 4 stars.
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LibraryThing member Banbury
Blindness does not work as a novel. There is no character development, nor a real plot. There is no explanation, either explicit or implicit, of why just a single character avoids the plague of blindness. The only reason appears to be a mechanical need for an observer/narrator who can see. Conversations are not set off by quotation marks, and there is no specific indication of which character is speaking. It does not matter, however, because the characters are not particularly differentiated in the story, so it does not really matter who is speaking. The author does not even bother to name the characters. Instead he simply gives each some type of relative description: "the doctor's wife," "the boy with the squint." If it is a parable, it is too long, and too simplistic: The point seems to be that humans are often brutal; humans shit; modern society is complex. So what?
The author seems to have an adolescent boy's delight in describing violent sex scenes. The author idealizes the women who sacrifice everything for the men. He uses the stereotypes of the all-understanding and forgiving wife; the woman who sacrifices her life to save the village; the prostitute with the heart of gold.
The references to Milton's Paradise Lost just emphasize how far short Blindness fall from greatness. Paradise Lost describes a great battle in heaven, and then man's fall from grace. Despite the downward trajectory, Paradise Lost invokes a nobility in man, and gives one a sense of higher aspirations despite a fallen nature. The battle in the asylum, invokes Paradise Lost by describing an opposite situation--a battle in Hell. The asylum is obviously meant to be Hell (complete with fire and "archangels" p.184). The battle results in the release of the inmates from their hellish surroundings, and eventually their redeemed sight. However, despite its apparent positive trajectory, the reader is left only with feelings of disgust and despair about the human condition.
Books that make his points with better storytelling ability are Camus' The Plague, and Goldings' Lord of the Flies.
This book is just scatological and pornographic.
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LibraryThing member crazybatcow
I had read a lot of reviews of this book and bought it thinking I would enjoy it - assuming the negative reviewers were offended because it showed blind people in a bad light. That was not the case.

There is excessive/rapid/unbelievable character personality development - i.e. the "car thief" went from car thief (and we are told specifically that he only stole cars) to wannabe rapist in about 3 scenes. Is this supposed to be thief = rapist or blind = rapist? Either way, it is ridiculous.

There are several tangents - i.e. each person tells what they saw before they went blind - one guy goes on and on about art pieces he saw - who cares? What does this artistic tangent have to do with progressing the story? Nothing. But I suspect it makes the author look intelligent.

There is a scene around winding a watch - not only do we not wind watches, how could anyone who has had nothing to do for 3 days forget to wind her watch? What else was she doing that distracted her from this? - oh, right, the blind spent their days pooping in their beds. Yes, we are expected to believe that the blind defecate in their own beds because, well... I am not sure the author's point. I read scifi a lot and am very used to suspending disbelief - I can accept that a post-apocalyptic world would be "strongest survive", or martial rule where infractions mean death. But human kind, sighted or not, will not defecate in their own beds. Period.

I do understand that this is not meant to be a book about real people and real blindness anymore than Stephen King's books are about real happenings but - even keeping in mind that I really wanted to like this story - ultimately it tries WAY too hard to be "artsy"/moralistic. I don't need to be thumped on the head to "get it".
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LibraryThing member peace3love
Being a HUGE fan of apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic literature I, clearly, could not pass up this book... However, I truly wish that I had of done just that. I will admit that the first few chapters of the book were great but after that the book just went downhill. First, the book draws you in when the first major character goes completely blind while driving and the panic that ensues. This part of the novel actually made me feel panicked and excited to read more.

Yet, after the epidemic has spread, the book falls into a lull of the same patterns repeating over and over with barely enough change to keep the reader drawn in. Also, the fact that not a single character had a proper name REALLY bothered me. I kept losing track of which character was which and none of the characters really had any meaning.

I did, however, enjoy the fact that the novel made one feel nervous and emotional about how the world would be if this epidemic happened in real life. The book was scary at times and made me evaluate my own life. Therefore, there were many philosophical aspects to the book that I did enjoy. I still wouldn't recommend it though...
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LibraryThing member bohemiangirl35
Many thanx to kippras, whose review states more clearly than I can just what I was feeling when I finished this novel. I don't get what all the hype is about.

The first part of the novel is riveting. I want to know what's going to happen. I understand why there's chaos in the mental asylum where the blind are quarantined. However, once the group of "friends" escapes the asylum, I was bored almost to tears. I was so disappointed with the ending.

I also don't understand why Saramago believes that mass blindness would remove the need for people having names. People would still want to identify themselves and those they were associated with. I would want to know my friends and foes. If you're calling to each other, a description isn't convenient. "hey, girl with the dark glasses (dark glasses I never saw and can't see now because we met after I went blind, so I don't even know you wear them) follow my voice so we can find each other and move to another place to find food." I would want to call her by a name and would want to be called by my name. I think most people would.

And if people are staying together in groups, wouldn't most of them try to have some kind of order instead of defecating any and everywhere? Animals keep their toilet and food separate. Why would we be different even if we went blind. Otherwise all kinds of illness would be rampant. Welcome e coli! Hasten us to our deaths to relieve us of our blindness!

Anyway, I have more faith in humanity, I guess. I don't understand why the previously blind, meaning before the white blindness, don't rise to power and start teaching or leading others in their community in how to maneuver through the city, to read, etc. There are many independent blind people on Earth already. Do the "regular" blind people keep their names? Or do they find them unnecessary because everyone is blind?

Enough with the criticism. I'm glad others found some existential meaning in the book. The first part was very interesting. I found the latter half too unbelievable to enjoy.
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LibraryThing member joannasephine
A harrowing book, something like a cross between McCarthy's "The Road" and Isabelle Alende's "The House of Spirits", with maybe a dash of China Mieville's "The City and the City". Like all good dystopian fiction, it takes the collapse of civillisation as its background, and uses the particular details -- characters, situations, setting -- to ask some fairly harsh questions about what it means to be human. At what point do you stop being human? How far can you descend into savagery and still come back as one of us? And the darker question -- at which point would you give up?

Saramago's prose takes a bit of adjusting to -- like McCarthy, he doesn't use quote marks, and his punctuation is a bit idiosyncratic. But it didn't annoy me as much as McCarthy's did -- this is a book about blindness, about losing sight (and self), so I felt the blurring between utterances, the whole 'who said what' felt like an accurate reflection of what was going on. Lots of commas and fullstops, but I think that may have been the only marks used. Lots of questions with no question marks -- again, it fits. These are people asking questions that they don't expect to have answered, so it works to have them written down that way.

There are some pretty horrible things depicted, but the magical realism feel to it all allows the horrors to be spoken of but not wallowed in, if that makes sense. The narrator's voice touches on thngs like rape and murder and pillage gently, even compassionately. Not making light of them; or avoiding mentioning them. But not making a fetish out of them either, which is a nice change. You see (a word that gets a lot of weight added to it) because it is right that thgs be witnessed. But you are kept at a slight distance from it all -- the characters being protected from the readers, or the readers protected from the characters, perhaps -- it's a very interesting and skillful technique.

It's not an easy book, or a nice one. But it's also not brutal or horrible, although it considers brutal and horrible things. The reason people read (and should read) dystopian fiction is because it makes us confront the darker sides of humanity, makes us ask ourselves the questions that we don't want to face. This book is a surprisingly effective, almost beautiful example of good dystopian fiction. Well (if a bit strangely) written, and very humane, as well as human. Not a comfortable read, but an important one.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
As an epidemic of blindness spreads throughout the country and people have no idea what is causing it. While government officials work to contain it, those who have already been struck blind are interred in a mental hospital with no supervision. The wicked individuals rise to the top and take advantage of everyone else.

This book is a study of what happens when our precious civilization is stripped away and people are forced to resort to their most animalistic state to survive. It's like Lord of the Flies with adults. The writing is beautiful and though you're reading about some intensely disturbing situations, Saramago writes in a way that makes sure you can't look away. He gives his characters no names, only descriptions (i.e. Girl with the Dark Glasses), which gives the story a feeling of anonymity. This could be anyone, in any town.

The most horrific aspect of the story is the fact that one of the main characters can still see. Everyone thinks she's blind, but she lied so she could stay with her husband and take care of him. Because of this, individuals don't disguise their actions around her and she can see everything that is really happening. The book is equal parts profound and disturbing.

**One note on the text. It's written in a way that can be a bit confusing. The dialogue is written in paragraphs, rarely noting who is speaking. It looks a bit like this: "How are you? I'm fine. Has work been busy? Yes, we have a new client." So you need to pay close attention to who is speaking in order to follow the characters trains of thought. If you're an audiobook listener I would highly recommend the audio read by Jonathan Davis. He has slightly different inflections for each of the characters, which makes it easy to follow.
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LibraryThing member railarson
The very evening I finished reading José Saramago’s brilliant novel Blindness, I found out that Fernando Meirelles has made a movie of it staring Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. Jesus Christ, I thought, who in their right mind would want to see that? Don’t get me wrong, it is a very powerful work, one of Saramago’s best, but it ranks along with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road as one of the most scathing indictments of human nature ever written.

Blindness is the story of what happens to a city when its inhabitants are suddenly, without any explanation, struck blind. At first the government tries to quarantine the victims to prevent the anomaly from spreading, but that only serves to land those already suffering into the ninth circle of hell.

Dante comes to mind quite often when reading the chapters dealing with the internment of the sightless citizens, as does The Plague by Albert Camus. Saramago repeatedly strips away the thin veneer of civilization to show us the animals lurking right beneath the first few layers of dirt and skin.

I’m guessing that Julianne Moore is playing the wife of an ophthalmologist who was one of the first to lose his vision. When the government comes to take her husband away, she claims that she has also been struck. This gives the doctor and the small band of internees that surround her the advantage once they reach the former asylum, but the doctor’s wife is cursed to witness the horrors and degradation that await them all regardless.

If anyone could pull this off, perhaps it is Meirelles. His City of God was a masterpiece and depicted the slums of Rio de Janeiro unflinchingly—yet at the same time found real beauty among the garbage and squalor. I’ll still bet that he has chosen to scale down the utter sewer that the world of Saramago’s novel becomes in no time at all.

My one problem with the movie’s casting is that the doctor’s wife is supposed to be very plain looking. One of the most moving scenes in the book is when the other women tell her how beautiful she is, having never seen her with their own eyes—it is her inner beauty they recognize. I can’t imagine that scene having the same impact when it’s Julianne Moore, even when caked in human feces (or not).
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LibraryThing member HotWolfie
I don't mind Jose Saramago's contemporary, experimental writing style. The premise, however, was unoriginal. The dialog was overly simple and bland. The characters were boring and flat. I liked the theme overall, but felt that Saramago's writing was on the nose and preachy.
LibraryThing member CasualFriday
In Blindness, Portuguese Nobelist José Saramago's dystopian fable, unnamed people in an unnamed country are suddenly stricken blind. Due to fear of contagion, the early victims are herded into asylums, offered no medical help, meager rations, and left to themselves to organize a civilized community - or not, as it turns out.

This book cries out for discussion, but I would not recommend it to any book that prefers uplifting, ladylike books. It is harrowing and graphic. I had tears in my eyes at one point, not from sadness exactly but from...horror, I guess. As for the writing style, Saramago employs run-on sentences in long paragraphs, with dialog set off only by quotation marks, so it is sometimes hard to puzzle out who is speaking. I've mentioned before that I find the lack of quotation marks a distancing device, but that was not the case here. The writing creates the kind of disorientation that the newly blind might be experiencing.

My brief and untutored review can't do justice to a book that demands more analysis. I'm still thinking about it.
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LibraryThing member -Eva-
A disturbing story of what happens to a country when its people become victims of a blindness epidemic. The story is obviously anti-authoritarian since anything and everything the Government (always capitalized) arranges or manages will inevitably cause suffering for regular people and they defend any decisions with stating that it's for the greater good of the Nation that those afflicted with the blindness have to suffer. Personally, I find the blindness idea more interesting than the political one, and, although it can be read from that angle, I don't feel it's a necessity - the human aspect is so much more interesting.

The most interesting thing for me was the realization of how fast society would actually unravel should we all wake up blind one day - nobody to grow food, put out fires, take away trash, heal the sick, or fix broken toilets. Of course, most of us have at one time or another closed our eyes and imagined being blind, but it isn't as frightening when you know that it's not a permanent state. I think it would be as bad for the blind who live in our seeing world now - they can ask someone for assistance if they need, but if nobody is there to assist, what then? I was impressed with how Saramago made this horrific world come to life.

It reminded me of books I've read about Jewish ghettos during WWII in that regular people, no matter their previous status or social class are forced to live together and you never know beforehand who will turn out to be evil or good or a coward or a hero. For something so inherently bleak, though, I was delighted to see that there was, in all the misery, a lot of love and affection. It's also quietly funny in places, which I had not expected and, yes, I did actually laugh out loud a few times. A very thought-provoking read that I know will stay with me a long time and which has placed Saramago high on my list of authors to seek out.

Accepting his Nobel prize, Saramago said that he "wrote Blindness to remind those who might read it that we pervert reason when we humiliate life, that human dignity is insulted every day by the powerful of our world, that the universal lie has replaced the plural truths, that man stopped respecting himself when he lost the respect due to his fellow-creatures." Something to think about, right?
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
Imagine if you suddenly became blind - your eyes glaze over with a white light, and one by one, your loved ones, neighbors and enemies all become infected by this same white blindness. How would the government respond? How would the medical community deal with this epidemic? And more importantly, how would you survive when you cannot see?

This sense of despair is the central theme to Nobel Prize Winner Jose Saramago's novel, Blindness.

A group of blind people become allies during quarantine at a government facility guarded by soldiers. Within the facility, lawlessness rules over organization, and this band of blinded victims, led by a woman who fakes her blindness so she could stay with her husband, must steal, murder and endure sexual assault to survive these horrible conditions.

Blindness will leave you breathless in parts and exacerbated in others. Translated from Portuguese, the novel is written with run-on dialogues (with no quotation marks or attributions), extremely long paragraphs (some of which take up the entire page) and stream of consciousness writing. Once you get used to the writing style, the novel will leave you wondering: "What would I do if I suddenly became blind?"

I believe Blindness is a social commentary of how "blind" people are even when they can see. Blinded, no one could distinguish between different races, economic classes or intellect. A chamber maid and a doctor are now on the same playing field. With the absence of "normal" distinctions, new ones emerge. Those with food, with weapons, with a place to stay. And those who have nothing - not even hope that they will recover from their sudden blindness.

Readers who enjoyed The Road or other dystopian tales will find Blindness to be enjoyable, exhilarating and gripping. Overall, I am glad to have been introduced to this imaginative piece of Portuguese literature.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
Whew! I just finished this astonishing book....it blew me away. I'm not sure I could any review that would do justice to this Nobel Prize winner. While it is certainly depressing, in the end, I found it uplifting in that humanity survives and it appears that humaneness does not completely die. I'm not sure I could competently or rationally sit down and discuss or analyze all the incredible allegories, metaphors, or other literary devices the author uses.

I was prepared not to like the unstructured writing style, but found it did not bother me at all. The audio (I listened to parts of it as I drove and swam so I didn't have to 'put the book down') was incredibly done.

I could see that studying this book and all its complexities could easily take up an entire semester course. The device of not naming the characters but instead describing them (in spite of the blindness meaning no one could "see" that the girl had dark glasses for instance) was very effective in using these characters as representatives of entire groups of humanity while at the same time maintaining their individuality.

I am still trying to decide whether I found the ending of the book a satisfying one.
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LibraryThing member kippras
In “Blindness” by Jose Saramago, the author describes what happens when an entire city’s populace inexplicably goes blind. It is a “white blindness,” meaning that the people only see a “milky” mist of white around them.

Only one woman, only known as the doctor’s wife, can still see and is witness to this event.

She, her husband, the first blind man and later his wife, the girl with the dark glasses, the boy with the quint, the man with the eyepatch are all placed in a ward in an asylum by the government as are the rest of the suddenly blind at the beginning of the novel. The groups are separated into different wards: the people who have been exposed to the blindness and the actual blind, separated by a foyer and the gates to reenter the city are guarded by soliders who have orders to shoot anyone trying to escape at their discretion.

Within the gates of the asylum, it is a whole other world. I think one of the turning points in this first half is the shooting of a number of the blind as they are waiting for their food to be delivered by the soliders. One of the soldiers panics, thinking they are trying to escape, and shoots. Then all the soldiers shoot.

A number of the inmates (the leader with a gun) from another ward begin to terrorize the main characters by holding back food and making them “pay” for their food with any valuables they had with them (all their belongings) and then by raping the women.

I think the realization the government was not going to interfere with anything that happened in the asylum was the line drawn in the sand. With no repercussions, the criminal element was alble to gain control over the society in the asylum by fear.

For the first half of the novel, I was riveted to the text. Sure, people have debated Saramago’s style of writing back and forth–his giant run-on sentences with no tagged dialogues definitively marked and paragraphs encompassing pages and pages. It took a bit of adjustment–but, once I did, the writing added another dimension to the story. It added confusion, disorientation, and a need to pay closer attention to detail for the reader. And, in these three areas alone, the writing itself was magnificient.

I read fast. Well, I read popular fiction fast anyway. By the way this book was written, I had to slow down and pay attention to every word, who was speaking, who was acting. And I honestly liked the effect Saramago’s style had on the book.

For the first half of it, as I said.

Then the “inmates leave the asylum.” Outside the gates, the city has fallen to pieces–the blind are wandering about, identity-less as well as homeless. They have all decided, because they are blind, names are of no consequence. With their eyesight left their individual identities.

It seems as though everyone has panicked and society breaks down. Property rights have disappeared–the blind move in wherever they can as they can’t find their ways home.

We stop by the old flats where our characters lived before the blindness to discover the places are either occupied by others or in complete disarray. The world is dirty, filthy–the blind “do their business” in the streets without a care as to cleanliness.

I do not think people would give up their self-identity because they are blind. And while Saramago says that there is a piece within us that has no-name, I think the larger piece of us keeps us as separate identities. I AM Kari Wolfe. And while I am a part of the world, I still retain my own identity. My name is what identifies ME to others and, while it could be any name, this is the name I was given by my parents, the ones who created me.

While there are some beautifully written scenes within this half, I am pulled out of the fictional world because it’s not realistic. If everyone within a city was to suddenly be struck blind, would society totally collapse in on itself? Honestly, I doubt it.

Saramago’s lack of belief in human beings is disheartening.

Jose Saramago received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998.

A recent novel adds appreciably to Saramago’s literary stature. It was published in 1995 and has the title “Blindness: a novel”. Its omniscient narrator takes us on a horrific journey through the interface created by individual human perceptions and the spiritual accretions of civilisation. Saramago’s exuberant imagination, capriciousness and clear-sightedness find full expression in this irrationally engaging work. “Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.”

I have to admit–I really wasn’t that impressed.

2 stars out of 5. The story had possibility then descended into a chaotic mess, a story with no boundaries to hold it in.
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LibraryThing member John
This is a wonderful book.

In an unnamed city, an epidemic of "white blindness" starts to spread. People are suddenly, and inexplicably struck blind. At first it is a medical curiosity and mystery, but it quickly moves beyond that into what seems to be a life-threatening attack on the society as it seems "contagious" and the geometric progression of contact among people multiplies its effects. At first, the authorities put those struck blind, and those who have been in contact with them, in an unused mental hospital (appropriate image) where the perimeter of the grounds is patrolled by the army with orders to shoot to kill. The inmates are left to care for themselves, with only food and some bare supplies dropped off at regular intervals. Despite the best efforts of some to effect some order in the situation, the fear, the uncertainty, the lack of any prospect for recovery or treatment, the crush of numbers, and the tilting of what Manguel (Into the Looking-Glass Wood) describes as the uneasy balance between force and reason, rapidly undermines the common notions of humanity and justice that underpin society.

No one in the novel has a name. They are the man who was struck blind in his car, the doctor (who first tried to treat the man), the girl in the dark glasses (who was at the doctor's office), the doctor's wife, the man who stole the car, etc. Stripping away that sense of individuality in the reader's mind does not lessen the people; instead it allows the author to focus more on their characters and how they react to the increasingly unbearable pressures that they face. Throughout the story one person, the doctor's wife, is not struck blind, though she said that she was so that she could accompany her husband into detention. This gives her a tremendous advantage, but also presents some dangers, particularly when the detention centre is taken over by a gang of criminals, also struck blind, but who quickly impose their will on the centre so that they control all access to the food, and demand tribute, first in the form of valuables and then of women, for its release. An attempt to resist the criminals goes wrong and a fire destroys the entire detention centre, but by then the survivors find that the army guards are no longer in place, because the whole city, the whole society, is blind. The doctor, his wife, and four others ( who now know that the doctor's wife can see) return to the city and try to survive among the aimlessly wandering groups of starving blind people.

The novel ends with the "disease" passing as it came: inexplicably people start to regain their sight. In between, however, over the course of the novel, Saramago has written a brilliant book on just how thin is the veneer of civilization and society when threatened by the unexpected and unreasoned fears; also on how fragile modern society is, because of its wonderful technological marvels: when the city workers go blind and the pumps stop working all services such water, light and sanitation quickly break down with predictable consequences. He also explores the wondrous complexities of human nature, how people react in moments of extreme stress, how some act within character, others move outside of it, sometimes to negative effect, but others reach a level of self-sacrifice and compassion that they would never have exhibited before in the "sighted world" where they would never have been so tested. At the same time, the blindness of all has a levelling effect that forces people to deal with the essence and the behaviour of one another, and not to be influenced by appearances.

The book is written in a different style. There are few paragraphs, and no use of paragraphs and quotation marks to delineate speakers; instead all speech and communication runs together, separated only by commas, and although it may sound difficult, it works wonderfully to convey a real sense of the moment and the exchanges taking place. I found that even if a number of people were speaking, the simplicity of the style is such that it is easy to know who is speaking and the style is not confusing. This is a book with many levels and many metaphors and much wisdom; it deserves re-reading.
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LibraryThing member Floratina
READ IN ENGLISH

During an 'art-house movie' day back at school sometime in 2008/2009 they showed us the movie of this novel. It left a great expression on my mind as sometimes I still thought of it. It took me some time though to find out that it was based on an actually book. Since then, I've wanted to read it. Luckily Santa heard of my wish and gave it to me last Christmas.

Started reading almost immediately. It's not an fast reading easy read. But it is certainly a great novel. The story is simply depressing. The lost of eyesight must be terrible, let alone when it happens to everyone at once. It shows how easily this post-apocalyptic and dystopian world can arise. I would call this a must-read for fans of dystopian fiction.
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LibraryThing member LadyHazy
I was convinced that this was one of the best books I had ever read even before I finished this Nobel Prize-Winning author's masterpiece.

It's unbelievable how such a simple concept can be so terrifying, engaging, and enjoyable. It has some deeply dark, nasty moments, and is definitely not for the easily offended.
Poignantly, through an epidemic of blindness the author opens our eyes and minds to the brutality and animalistic instincts of our race. Also, the sheer dependency of society on the contributions of the people in it, and how fragile it all actually is.
The scary thing about this book is that the depiction of the degradation of the world as we know it is so damn believable.

In his writing, Saramango is bold enough to break traditional storytelling methods; the characters do not have names and are referred to with simple descriptions like 'the old man with the black eye patch', speech marks are completely absent even though there is a lot of speech in the book, and many sentences roll on for a long time, punctuated only by the occasional comma and capital letter.

I can't recommend this book enough!
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LibraryThing member moosechutney
Really interesting book. I love Saramago's use of language. He doesn't use quotes so the reader is left groping in the dark for which character is speaking, a technique which works beautifully. The concept of an epidemic of blindess is absolutely chilling and will stay with my always. Everyone in my book group loved this book. Extremely well written and very original story.… (more)
LibraryThing member bluepigeon
Perhaps Saramago's style here is most effective with its obsessively continuous delirium, the never ending paragraphs, and conversations presented in train-of-thought manner without the usual punctuation. I certainly do not recommend this to anyone who is looking for an easy read, or anyone with attention problems. I found the initial quarantine situation too contrived. Perhaps we are to believe in a government indifferent to its citizens' rights, or a government simply not well-equipped for a rapidly growing pandemic, but really? Not having enough food to fee 200 people? Stuffing them in an abandoned mental house with barely working facilities, with no help, no seeing-eyes? This was published in 1995, not in 1970. So after this initial disbelief, I was able to sink my teeth into the lord-of-the-flies-for-adults with pleasure. I do not know if it is just my bad mind, or Saramago thinks highly of humans, many times I imagined much worse things happening than in the book. It was, nevertheless, a great exercise on human nature… (more)
LibraryThing member norabelle414
I'm extremely conflicted about this book. The story is amazing. The narration follows the first dozen or so victims of a blindness epidemic, who are forcefully quarantined in an abandoned mental asylum to keep the rest of the population from going blind. It's so perfectly apocalyptic and ambiguous that I just wanted to eat it all up! There are no names of places or people given, and no descriptions outside of one or two identifying features from the brief contact the victims had before the blindness - the girl with the dark glasses, the old man with the eyepatch, the car thief, etc etc. The ending is great and there's a sequel called Seeing which I really want to read because I want to know what happens next.

HOWEVER, the way the book is written is TERRIBLE. There are no paragraph breaks anywhere, and no quotation marks to denote the start/end of dialogue or the changing of speakers. There are lots of swift back-and-forth conversations with groups of 3 or more people, and the only way to tell when a new person is speaking is with a comma and a capital letter. But there are also commas in the sentences, and sometimes phrases start with "I" which is always capitalized! Then where are you!? I almost gave up on this twice because I was just so frustrated with trying to read the dialogue. I'm sure it's supposed to be some allusion to the chaos and confusion and frustration of becoming blind, but it completely ruined the story for me.

I'm wondering if the sequel is written in the same annoying way. And if Saramago does weird stuff like this in all of his books.

I guess I'm rating this a 3? Five for the story, one for the way it's written.
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LibraryThing member HippieLunatic
I was unsure how I would handle the style of writing posed in this book, the long sentences, infrequent paragraph breaks, the lack of some puncuation... but it held me tightly. I was drawn into the concept of an epidemic of blindness because of my need to concentrate on everything I could to understand the world in this novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member HearTheWindSing

Whichever way you interpret it, you will find that most of all Blindness is about being human.

In a world full of blind people, where the civilization as we know it has completely deteriorated, people are no more identified and judged based on their profession, social status, outward appearances etc. All that remains to distinguish one person from another is one's voice, and the kind of person one is. When people are struggling for survival, trying hard to hold on to life, they drop all the outward pretenses and reveal their true nature. Their actions and behavior mirror the person they are on the inside. And this is how Saramago lets us see every shade of human nature and manages to effectively convey the psychological impact of the epidemic by describing the actions of the people in this blind world.

We, as the human race, take pride in the civilization we have built for ourselves and how we have changed the world in a way that no other life forms could. Blindness brings forth the horrifying truth about how soon the entire system and entire civilization crumbles to nothing if we lose just one of our senses. People are reduced to living in unimaginable filth and rummaging for food and water like animals.

"We're going back to being primitive hordes, said the old man with the black eyepatch, with the difference that we are not a few thousand men and women in an immense, unspoiled nature, but thousands of millions in an uprooted, exhausted world, And blind, ..."

"There must be a government, said the first blind man, I'm not so sure, but if there is , it will be a government of the blind trying to rule the blind, that is to say, nothingness trying to organize nothingness. Then there is no future..."

On the positive side, even in times of utter hopelessness people do all they can to survive. The spirit which keeps them going and struggling to go on living commands respect.

The narrative voice comes across as very honest. The narrator gives a transparent description of what is going on, without ever trying to mitigate the horrors of the situation or to poetize people's misfortune. The narrator maintains an emotional distance and does not offer any judgements on what it observes. The narration, however, is not dry by any means. There are tender moments with love and compassion, and several darker ones which leave one gasping in horror. The writing, though simple, is laden with meaning. And many of those ideas are easy to identify with and understand, since they are not too far from the human nature that we encounter in real world too, they are often things we already know and understand, but haven't looked at them in the way Saramago presents them.

"....since we know that human reason and unreason are same everywhere."

As a dystopian novel, Blindness is a very convincing one. I remember reading another novel, Lord of the Flies, about complete break-down of civilization. I could never understand what could possibly give rise to murdering instincts in those innocent kids. With Blindness, on the other hand, it is difficult to imagine how things could have been any better than how they are shown in the book.

"No, I am not an optimist, but I cannot imagine anything worse than our present existence. Well, I am not entirely convinced that there are limits to misfortune and evil."

Saramago does not try to provide justifications for the course things take, but everything we read about there is very possible and does not leave room for doubt. It was specially the section about people in the asylum which makes this book memorable for me. One can't possibly read through that section without a lump in the throat. The feeling of hopelessness that prevails is haunting.

"..blindness is also this, to live in a world where all hope is gone."

Most of all, Blindness reminds us how fortunate and blessed we all are and to appreciate the little things that make our lives a wonderful experience.

"..when the experience of time has taught us nothing other than that there are no blind people, only blindness."

"..I don't think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see."

"If you can see, look. If you can look, observe. (From the Book of Exhortations)"


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Language

Original language

Portuguese
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