It has already become a cliche to say that Saramago's 'Blindness' is a disturbing novel. However, that is really what it is--a disturbing novel. Why? Because it makes us ask if, indeed, we have to become blind to see the way things are and to understand what it means to be human. As one of the characters in the novel says: 'So num mundo de cegos as coisas serao o que verdadeiramente sao' ('Only in a world of blind people would things be what they truly are'). Another says: 'Dentro de nos ha una coisa que nao tem nome, essa coisa e o que somos' ('Inside us there is something that doesn't have a name, that something is what we are'). More than a novel, I see 'Blindness' as a disquisition on human values. Its title in Portuguese, 'Esaio sobre a cegueira' (literally, 'Essay on blindness'), gives us a clue as to what Saramago is up to in the novel. There are terrible acts of violence and beautiful acts of solidarity; there are jokes on the way we use our language, so centered in our sense of sight; there are asides among characters, revealing, in many instances, the need for companionship and, at the same time, the ultimatately unknowable nature of everyone next to us. In many ways, 'Blindness' is reminiscent of Sartre's play 'Huis clos'. In Sartre's play, our eyes represent the hell everybody has to live with because it is through them that we base our opinions of others, particularly those next to us; in Saramago's novel, our eyes interfere with our attempts to know things and each other better because we become so easily prejudiced by the looks of things and people. One dialogue between two of the characters close to the end of the novel--the old man with a band on one of his eyes and the girl with the dark glasses--exemplify this last point beautifully.Read more ›
This novel is one of the best books that I have read all year. Saramago's concept of a world caught up in a disease of blindness was a brilliant one, but his accomplishments in making this event seem plausible are superior. The book's entire structure adds to the blind quality of the novel: The characters are unnamed, save for a vague moniker that breifly describes them (example: the girl with dark glasses, the old man with the black eye patch). The dialogue is unquoted and placed within the text, virtually unmarked. Chapters are unnamed, and the text is written in large, lengthy paragraphs, mimicking the fact that sensations would come with no breaks, that all would seem as one. The book's only downfall is its occasional difficulty. Though the prose is simply, elegantly written in a somewhat sparse style, its blocky format can be too much for some readers to handle at a time. As well, the unquoted, often unattributed dialogue can become confusing after a lengthy passage of conversation, as the reader is unable to tell who is speaking. Besides these minor pitfalls, this book truly resembles a modern retelling of many mythological stories, but with a tragically human bent that draws the readers in and makes them feel a part of the action. An excellent, thought-provoking read, worthy of any bibliophile's library. Enjoy.
Blindness is my introduction to Saramago. A good friend at Amazon suggested this writer to me. Though he'd won a Nobel, I'd never heard of him, which comes as no surprise as I've read only about half the Nobel winners' and am totally in the dark when it comes to about 15 names on the list. What strikes me most stongly about this book is the author's challenges he sets up for himself early on. As more and more characters are introduced, the challenge of keeping track of who is speaking and who is where mounts exponentially. I kept saying to myself "How's he going to do it when the wards fill up?" As noted throughout the reviews, Saramago does not provide us with the usual authorial roadmap. What surprises me is that only one other reviewer (Michael Lima) mentioned that this stylistic maneuvering is a great metaphor for the subject matter. As readers, we are disoriented by the lack of accustomed punctuation, among other things. We have to pause sometimes to get our bearings. "Who said that?" we ask ourselves. It's exactly appropos to the way the blind characters react in the novel. Saramago wants the reader disoriented so that the empathy we feel for his characters becomes more pronounced. We share an awareness of what they are experiencing first-hand. We too have to grope our way in the dark, without the usual guideposts. The characters go unnamed. As one of the chracters thinks to himself,"names are of no importance here." We know them only as "the first blind man" or the "girl with dark glasses" or "the doctor's wife." One reviewer objected to this device, citing "the dog of tears" as an example of Saramago's ineptitude.Read more ›
Jose Saramago presents us with an interesting premise: what if suddenly a society were to become spontaneously and absurdly sightless? How would people respond to each other? What would happen to the structure of the society? Would the powerful and those with weapons suddenly rule? Would the jungle of Thomas Hobbes, in which life is brutish, nasty and short, ultimately prevail? The beauty of the allegory is its stark truth and its reality. I was reminded of the plight of concentration camp prisoners and the people quarantined in The Plague by Camus. I sensed the influence of the existentialists here in works like No Exit by Sartre and the absurdity of Kafka also at play. The blind writer and the blindfolded religious icons intrigued me. I personally don't see such involuntary blindness as total but rather as blind spots. However, the premise of blindness, partial or absolute, diminishes the malevolence of the human condition. Ultimately, not only the realism and the skill with which the characters were drawn but the writer's optimism and redemption made this book really work for me. Saramago has shed new light on the human condition and for that he has made a mighty contribution to literature.This is a memorable and remarkable work -- I highly recommend this as a literary experience that will change your perception of your fellow man.
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