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Blindness / Seeing Hardcover – May 18, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Reissue edition (May 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547554885
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547554884
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

JOSÉ SARAMAGO (1922–2010) was the author of many novels, among them Blindness, All the Names, Baltasar and Blimunda, and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.



MARGARET JULL COSTA has established herself as the premier translator of Portuguese literature into English today.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Blindness

The amber light came on. Two of the cars ahead accelerated
before the red light appeared. At the pedestrian
crossing the sign of a green man lit up. The people who were
waiting began to cross the road, stepping on the white stripes
painted on the black surface of the asphalt, there is nothing
less like a zebra, however, that is what it is called. The motorists
kept an impatient foot on the clutch, leaving their cars at
the ready, advancing, retreating like nervous horses that can
sense the whiplash about to be inflicted. The pedestrians have
just finished crossing but the sign allowing the cars to go will
be delayed for some seconds, some people maintain that this
delay, while apparently so insignificant, has only to be multiplied
by the thousands of traffic lights that exist in the city and
by the successive changes of their three colours to produce one
of the most serious causes of traffic jams or bottlenecks, to use
the more current term.
     The green light came on at last, the cars moved offbriskly,
but then it became clear that not all of them were equally quick
offthe 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.
     Who would have believed it. Seen merely at a glance, the
man’s eyes seem healthy, the iris looks bright, luminous, the
sclera white, as compact as porcelain. The eyes wide open,
the wrinkled skin of the face, his eyebrows suddenly screwed
up, all this, as anyone can see, signifies that he is distraught
with anguish. With a rapid movement, what was in sight has
disappeared behind the man’s clenched fists, as if he were still
trying to retain inside his mind the final image captured, a
round red light at the traffic lights. I am blind, I am blind, he
repeated in despair as they helped him to get out of the car, and
the tears welling up made those eyes which he claimed were
dead, shine even more. These things happen, it will pass you’ll
see, sometimes it’s nerves, said a woman. The lights had already
changed again, some inquisitive passersby had gathered around
the group, and the drivers further back who did not know what
was going on, protested at what they thought was some common
accident, a smashed headlight, a dented fender, nothing
to justify this upheaval, Call the police, they shouted and get
that old wreck out of the way. The blind man pleaded, Please,
will someone take me home. The woman who had suggested a
case of nerves was of the opinion that an ambulance should be
summoned to transport the poor man to the hospital, but the
blind man refused to hear of it, quite unnecessary, all he wanted
was that someone might accompany him to the entrance of the
building where he lived. It’s close by and you could do me no
greater favour. And what about the car, asked someone. Another
voice replied, The key is in the ignition, drive the car onto the
pavement. No need, intervened a third voice, I’ll take charge of
the car and accompany this man home. There were murmurs
of approval. The blind man felt himself being taken by the arm,
Come, come with me, the same voice was saying to him. They
eased him into the front passenger seat, and secured the safety
belt. I can’t see, I can’t see, he murmured, still weeping. Tell
me where you live, the man asked him. Through the car windows
voracious faces spied, avid for some news. The blind man
raised his hands to his eyes and gestured, Nothing, it’s as if I
were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea. But blindness
isn’t like that, said the other fellow, they say that blindness
is black, Well I see everything white, That little woman
was probably right, it could be a matter of nerves, nerves are
the very devil, No need to talk to me about it, it’s a disaster,
yes a disaster, Tell me where you live please, and at the same
time the engine started up. Faltering, as if his lack of sight had
weakened his memory, the blind man gave his address, then he
said, I have no words to thank you, and the other replied, Now
then, don’t give it another thought, today it’s your turn, tomorrow
it will be mine, we never know what might lie in store for
us, You’re right, who would have thought, when I left the house
this morning, that something as dreadful as this was about to
happen. He was puzzled that they should still be at a standstill,
Why aren’t we moving, he asked, The light is on red, replied
the other. From now on he would no longer know when the
light was red.
     As the blind man had said, his home was nearby. But the
pavements were crammed with vehicles, they could not find a
space to park and were obliged to look for a spot in one of the
side streets. There, because of the narrowness of the pavement,
the door on the passenger’s side would have been little more
than a hand’s-breadth from the wall, so in order to avoid the
discomfort of dragging himself from one seat to the other with
the brake and steering wheel in the way, the blind man had to
get out before the car was parked. Abandoned in the middle of
the road, feeling the ground shifting under his feet, he tried to
suppress the sense of panic that welled up inside him. He waved
his hands in front of his face, nervously, as if he were swimming
in what he had described as a milky sea, but his mouth
was already opening to let out a cry for help when at the last
minute he felt the other’s hand gently touch him on the arm,
Calm down, I’ve got you. They proceeded very slowly, afraid
of falling, the blind man dragged his feet, but this caused him
to stumble on the uneven pavement, Be patient, we’re almost
there, the other murmured, and a little further ahead, he asked,
Is there anyone at home to look after you, and the blind man
replied, I don’t know, my wife won’t be back from work yet, today
it so happened that I left earlier only to have this hit me.
You’ll see, it isn’t anything serious, I’ve never heard of anyone
suddenly going blind, And to think I used to boast that I didn’t
even need glasses, Well it just goes to show. They had arrived at
the entrance to the building, two women from the neighbourhood
looked on inquisitively at the sight of their neighbour being
led by the arm but neither of them thought of asking, Have
you got something in your eye, it never occurred to them nor
would he have been able to reply, Yes, a milky sea. Once inside
the building, the blind man said, Many thanks, I’m sorry for all
the trouble I’ve caused you, I can manage on my own now, No
need to apologise, I’ll come up with you, I wouldn’t be easy in
my mind if I were to leave you here. They got into the narrow
elevator with some difficulty, What floor do you live on, On
the third, you cannot imagine how grateful I am, Don’t thank
me, today it’s you, Yes, you’re right, tomorrow it might be you.
The elevator came to a halt, they stepped out onto the landing,
Would you like me to help you open the door, Thanks, that’s
something I think I can do for myself. He took from his pocket
a small bunch of keys, felt them one by one along the serrated
edge, and said, It must be this one, and feeling for the keyhole
with the fingertips of his left hand, he tried to open the door.
It isn’t this one, Let me have a look, I’ll help you. The door
opened at the third attempt. Then the blind man called inside,
Are you there, no one replied, and he remarked, Just as I
was saying, she still hasn’t come back. Stretching out his hands,
he groped his way along the corridor, then he came back cautiously,
turning his head in the direction where he calculated
the other fellow would be, How can I thank you, he said, It was
the least I could do, said the good Samaritan, no need to thank
me, and added, Do you want me to help you to get settled and
keep you company until your wife arrives. This zeal suddenly
struck the blind man as being suspect, obviously he would not
invite a complete stranger to come in who, after all, might well
be plotting at that very moment how to overcome, tie up and
gag the poor defenceless blind man, and then lay hands on anything
of value. There’s no need, please don’t bother, he said,
I’m fine, and as he slowly began closing the door, he repeated,
There’s no need, there’s no need.
    Hearing the sound of the elevator descending he gave a sigh
of relief. With a mechanical gesture, forgetting the state in
which he found himself, he drew back the lid of the peephole
and looked outside. It was as if there were a white wall on the
other side. He could feel the contact of the metallic frame on
his eyebrow, his eyelashes brushed against the tiny lens, but he
could not see out, an impenetrable whiteness covered everything.
He knew he was in his own home, he recognised the
smell, the atmosphere, the silence, he could make out the items
of furniture and objects simply by touching them, lightly running
his fingers over them, but at the same time it was as if all
of this were already dissolving into a kind of strange dimension,
without direction or reference points, with neither north
nor south, below nor above. Like most people, he had often
played as a child at pretending to be blind, and, after keeping
his eyes closed for five minutes, he had reached the conclusion
that blindness, undoubtedly a terrible affliction, might still be
relatively bearable if the unfortunate victim had retained suffi
cient memory, not just of the colours, but also of forms and
planes, surfaces and shapes, assuming of course, that this one
was not born blind. He had even reached the point of thinking
that the darkness in which the blind live was nothing other
than the simple absence of light, that what we call blindness
was something that simply covered the appearance of beings
and things, leaving them intact behind their black veil. Now,
on the contrary, here he was, plunged into a whiteness so luminous,
so total, that it swallowed up rather than absorbed, not
just the colours, but the very things and beings, thus making
them twice as invisible…

From Seeing

Terrible voting weather, remarked the presiding offi
cer of polling station fourteen as he snapped shut his
soaked umbrella and took offthe raincoat that had proved of
little use to him during the breathless forty-meter dash from
the place where he had parked his car to the door through
which, heart pounding, he had just appeared. I hope I’m not
the last, he said to the secretary, who was standing slightly away
from the door, safe from the sheets of rain which, caught by
the wind, were drenching the floor. Your deputy hasn’t arrived
yet, but we’ve still got plenty of time, said the secretary soothingly,
With rain like this, it’ll be a feat in itself if we all manage
to get here, said the presiding officer as they went into the
room where the voting would take place. He greeted, first, the
poll clerks who would act as scrutineers and then the party representatives
and their deputies. He was careful to address exactly
the same words to all of them, not allowing his face or
tone of voice to betray any political and ideological leanings of
his own. A presiding officer, even of an ordinary polling station
like this, should, in all circumstances, be guided by the strictest
sense of independence, he should, in short, always observe
decorum.
     As well as the general dampness, which made an already oppressive
atmosphere still muggier, for the room had only two
narrow windows that looked out onto a courtyard which was
gloomy even on sunny days, there was a sense of unease which,
to use the vernacular expression, you could have cut with a
knife. They should have postponed the elections, said the representative
of the party in the middle, or the p.i.t.m., I mean,
it’s been raining nonstop since yesterday, there are landslips
and floods everywhere, the abstention rate this time around
will go sky-high. The representative from the party on the
right, or the p.o.t.r., nodded in agreement, but felt that his contribution
to the conversation should be couched in the form of
a cautious comment, Obviously, I wouldn’t want to underestimate
the risk of that, but I do feel that our fellow citizens’ high
sense of civic duty, which they have demonstrated before on so
many occasions, is deserving of our every confidence, they are
aware, indeed, acutely so, of the vital importance of these municipal
elections for the future of the capital. Having each said
their piece, the representative of the p.i.t.m. and the representative
of the p.o.t.r. turned, with a half- sceptical, half-ironic air,
to the representative of the party on the left, the p.o.t.l., curious
to know what opinion he would come up with. At that
precise moment, however, the presiding officer’s deputy burst
into the room, dripping water everywhere, and, as one might
expect, now that the cast of polling station officers was complete,
the welcome he received was more than just cordial, it
was positively enthusiastic. We therefore never heard the viewpoint
of the representative of the p.o.t.l., although, on the basis
of a few known antecedents, one can assume that he would,
without fail, have taken a line of bright historical optimism,
something like, The people who vote for my party are not the
sort to let themselves be put offby a minor obstacle like this,
they’re not the kind to stay at home just because of a few mis-
erable drops of rain falling from the skies. It was not, however,
a matter of a few miserable drops of rain, there were bucketfuls,
jugfuls, whole niles, iguaçús and yangtses of the stuff, but
faith, may it be eternally blessed, as well as removing mountains
from the path of those who benefit from its influence,
is capable of plunging into the most torrential of waters and
emerging from them bone-dry.
     With the table now complete, with each officer in his or
her allotted place, the presiding officer signed the official edict
and asked the secretary to affix it, as required by law, outside
the building, but the secretary, demonstrating a degree of basic
common sense, pointed out that the piece of paper would
not last even one minute on the wall outside, in two ticks the
ink would have run and in three the wind would have carried it
off. Put it inside, then, out of the rain, the law doesn’t say what
to do in these circumstances, the main thing is that the edict
should be pinned up where it can be seen. He asked his colleagues
if they were in agreement, and they all said they were,
with the proviso on the part of the representative of the p.o.t.r.
that this decision should be recorded in the minutes in case
they were ever challenged on the matter. When the secretary
returned from his damp mission, the presiding officer asked
him what it was like out there, and he replied with a wry shrug,
Just the same, rain, rain, rain, Any voters out there, Not a sign.
The presiding officer stood up and invited the poll clerks and
the three party representatives to follow him into the voting
chamber, which was found to be free of anything that might
sully the purity of the political choices to be made there during
the day. This formality completed, they returned to their
places to examine the electoral roll, which they found to be
equally free of irregularities, lacunae or anything else of a suspicious
nature. The solemn moment had arrived when the presiding
officer uncovers and displays the ballot box to the voters
so that they can certify that it is empty, and tomorrow, if necessary,
bear witness to the fact that no criminal act has introduced
into it, at dead of night, the false votes that would corrupt
the free and sovereign political will of the people, and so
that there would be no electoral shenanigans, as they’re so picturesquely
known, and which, let us not forget, can be committed
before, during or after the act, depending on the efficiency
of the perpetrators and their accomplices and the opportunities
available to them. The ballot box was empty, pure, immaculate,
but there was not a single voter in the room to whom it
could be shown. Perhaps one of them is lost out there, battling
with the torrents, enduring the whipping winds, clutching to
his bosom the document that proves he is a fully enfranchised
citizen, but, judging by the look of the sky right now, he’ll be
a long time coming, if, that is, he doesn’t end up simply going
home and leaving the fate of the city to those with a black car
to drop them offat the door and pick them up again once the
person in the back seat has fulfilled his or her civic duty.
    After the various materials have been inspected, the law of
this country states that the presiding officer should immediately
cast his vote, as should the poll clerks, the party representatives
and their respective deputies, as long, of course, as
they are registered at that particular polling station, as was
the case here. Even by stretching things out, four minutes was
more than enough time for the ballot box to receive its first
eleven votes. And then, there was nothing else for it, the waiting
began. Barely half an hour had passed when the presiding
officer, who was getting anxious, suggested that one of the poll
clerks should go and see if anyone was coming, voters might
have turned up to find the door blown shut by the wind and
gone offin a huff, grumbling that the government might at
least have had the decency to inform people that the elections
had been postponed, that, after all, was what the radio and tele-
vision were for, to broadcast such information. The secretary
said, But everyone knows that when a door blows shut it makes
the devil of a noise, and we haven’t heard a thing in here. The
poll clerk hesitated, will I, won’t I, but the presiding officer insisted.
Go on, please, and be careful, don’t get wet. The door
was open, the wedge securely in place. The clerk stuck his head
out, a moment was all it took to glance from one side to the
other and then draw back, dripping, as if he had put his head
under a shower. He wanted to proceed like a good poll clerk,
to please the presiding officer, and, since it was the first time he
had been called upon to perform this function, he also wanted
to be appreciated for the speed and efficiency with which he
had carried out his duties, who knows, with time and experience,
he might one day be the person presiding over a polling
station, higher flights of ambition than this have traversed
the sky of providence and no one has so much as batted an eye.
When he went back into the room, the presiding officer, halfrueful,
half-amused, exclaimed, There was no need to get yourself
soaked, man, Oh, it doesn’t matter, sir, said the clerk, drying
his cheek on the sleeve of his jacket, Did you spot anyone,
    As far as I could see, no one, it’s like a desert of water out there.
The presiding officer got up, took a few uncertain steps around
the table, went into the voting chamber, looked inside and came
back. The representative of the p.i.t.m. spoke up to remind the
others of his prediction that the abstention rate would go skyhigh,
the representative of the p.o.t.r. once more played the role
of pacifier, the voters had all day to vote, they were probably
just waiting for the rain to let up. This time the representative
of the p.o.t.l. chose to remain silent, thinking what a pathetic
figure he would be cutting now if he had actually said what he
was going to say when the presiding officer’s deputy had come
into the room, It would take more than a few miserable drops
of rain to put offmy party’s voters. The secretary, on whom all
eyes were expectantly turned, opted for a practical suggestion,
You know, it might not be a bad idea to phone the ministry and
ask how the elections are going elsewhere in the city and in the
rest of the country too, that way we would find out if this civic
power cut was a general thing or if we’re the only ones whom
the voters have declined to illumine with their votes. The representative
of the p.o.t.r. sprang indignantly to his feet, I demand
that it be set down in the minutes that, as representative
of the p.o.t.r., I strongly object to the disrespectful manner and
the unacceptably mocking tone in which the secretary has just
referred to the voters, who are the supreme defenders of democracy,
and without whom tyranny, any of the many tyrannies
that exist in the world, would long ago have overwhelmed the
nation that bore us. The secretary shrugged and asked, Shall I
make a note of the representative of the p.o.t.r.’s comments, sir,
No, I don’t think that will be necessary, it’s just that we’re all a
bit tense and perplexed and puzzled, and, as we all know, in that
state of mind, it’s very easy to say things we don’t really believe,
and I’m sure the secretary didn’t mean to offend anyone, why,
he himself is a voter conscious of his responsibilities, the proof
being that he, as did all of us, braved the elements to answer
the call of duty, nevertheless, my feelings of gratitude, however
sincere, do not prevent me asking the secretary to keep rigorously
to the task assigned to him and to abstain from any comments
that might shock the personal or political sensibilities of
the other people here. The representative of the p.o.t.r. made a
brusque gesture which the presiding officer chose to interpret
as one of agreement, and the argument went no further, thanks,
in large measure, to the representative of the p.i.t.m., who took
up the secretary’s proposal, It’s true, he said, we’re like shipwreck
victims in the middle of the ocean, with no sails and no
compass, no mast and no oars, and with no diesel in the tank either,
Yes, you’re quite right, said the presiding officer, I’ll phone
the ministry now. There was a telephone on another table and
he walked over to it, carrying the instruction leaflet he had been
given days before and on which were printed, amongst other
useful things, the telephone numbers of the ministry of the
interior...


More About the Author

JOSE SARAMAGO is one of the most acclaimed writers in the world today. He is the author of numerous novels, including All the Names, Blindness, and The Cave. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Gloria Bowles on August 25, 2011
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I like "Blindness" more than any other novel I have read in recent years. It is abstract, parabolic and at the same time emotional. A Nobel prize winner, Saramago died recently. He was Portugese but lived for man years in Spain, escaping the dictatorship of his country. His family was poor; he was a journalist who started writing fiction relatively late in his life and a Communist of the most humane sort. His writing is compelling, unforgettable, moving and consequential.
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If you're buying this just for Blindness, it's worthwhile. It's an interesting book with intriguing characters and makes you think. Whether you agree with how things progress or not is another matter, but it is never dull. The author's peculiar style of writing lends itself well to a book about disorientation, loss of stability, and the chaos that ensues.

Seeing, on the other hand, is a mess of a book, and the writing style that worked so well in Blindness just makes Seeing hard to follow. The author is clearly writing one book with no idea of where it is going and then practically admits as such on the page right before he turns the latter part of this book into an odd sequel to Blindness that fails to bring real purpose to the first half of Seeing.
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Hard grammar for me, that is why I can not read fast and fluent. but I still like it. I wish it had easier version of translation.
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