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Blindness Hardcover – September 1, 1998

3.9 out of 5 stars 691 customer reviews

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Hardcover, September 1, 1998
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In an unnamed city in an unnamed country, a man sitting in his car waiting for a traffic light to change is suddenly struck blind. But instead of being plunged into darkness, this man sees everything white, as if he "were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea." A Good Samaritan offers to drive him home (and later steals his car); his wife takes him by taxi to a nearby eye clinic where they are ushered past other patients into the doctor's office. Within a day the man's wife, the taxi driver, the doctor and his patients, and the car thief have all succumbed to blindness. As the epidemic spreads, the government panics and begins quarantining victims in an abandoned mental asylum--guarded by soldiers with orders to shoot anyone who tries to escape. So begins Portuguese author José Saramago's gripping story of humanity under siege, written with a dearth of paragraphs, limited punctuation, and embedded dialogue minus either quotation marks or attribution. At first this may seem challenging, but the style actually contributes to the narrative's building tension, and to the reader's involvement.

In this community of blind people there is still one set of functioning eyes: the doctor's wife has affected blindness in order to accompany her husband to the asylum. As the number of victims grows and the asylum becomes overcrowded, systems begin to break down: toilets back up, food deliveries become sporadic; there is no medical treatment for the sick and no proper way to bury the dead. Inevitably, social conventions begin to crumble as well, with one group of blind inmates taking control of the dwindling food supply and using it to exploit the others. Through it all, the doctor's wife does her best to protect her little band of blind charges, eventually leading them out of the hospital and back into the horribly changed landscape of the city.

Blindness is in many ways a horrific novel, detailing as it does the total breakdown in society that follows upon this most unnatural disaster. Saramago takes his characters to the very edge of humanity and then pushes them over the precipice. His people learn to live in inexpressible filth, they commit acts of both unspeakable violence and amazing generosity that would have been unimaginable to them before the tragedy. The very structure of society itself alters to suit the circumstances as once-civilized, urban dwellers become ragged nomads traveling by touch from building to building in search of food. The devil is in the details, and Saramago has imagined for us in all its devastation a hell where those who went blind in the streets can never find their homes again, where people are reduced to eating chickens raw and packs of dogs roam the excrement-covered sidewalks scavenging from corpses.

And yet in the midst of all this horror Saramago has written passages of unsurpassed beauty. Upon being told she is beautiful by three of her charges, women who have never seen her, "the doctor's wife is reduced to tears because of a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, mere grammatical categories, mere labels, just like the two women, the others, indefinite pronouns, they too are crying, they embrace the woman of the whole sentence, three graces beneath the falling rain." In this one woman Saramago has created an enduring, fully developed character who serves both as the eyes and ears of the reader and as the conscience of the race. And in Blindness he has written a profound, ultimately transcendent meditation on what it means to be human. --Alix Wilber

From Publishers Weekly

Brilliant Portuguese fabulist Saramago (The History of the Siege of Lisbon) has never shied away from big game. His previous works have rewritten the history of Portugal, reimagined the life of Christ and remodeled a continent by cleaving the Iberian peninsula from Europe and setting it adrift. Here, Saramago stalks two of our oldest themes in the tale of a plague of blindness that strikes an unnamed European city. At the novel's opening, a driver sits in traffic, waiting for the light to change. By the time it does, his field of vision is white, a "milky sea." One by one, each person the man encounters?the not-so-good Samaritan who drives him home, the man's wife, the ophthalmologist, the patients waiting to see the ophthalmologist?is struck blind. Like any inexplicable contagion, this plague of "white sickness" sets off panic. The government interns the blind, as well as those exposed to them, in an abandoned mental hospital guarded by an army with orders to shoot any detainee who tries to escape. Like Camus, to whom he cannot help being compared, Saramago uses the social disintegration of people in extremis as a crucible in which to study the combustion of our vices and virtues. As order at the mental hospital breaks down and the contagion spreads, the depraved overpower the decent. When the hospital is consumed in flames, the fleeing internees find that everyone has gone blind. Sightless people rove in packs, scavenging for food, sleeping wherever they can. Throughout the narrative, one character remains sighted, the ophthalmologist's wife. Claiming to be blind so she may be interned with her husband, she eventually becomes the guide and protector for an improvised family. Indeed, she is the reader's guide and stand-in, the repository of human decency, the hero, if such an elaborate fable can have a hero. Even after so many factual accounts of mass cruelty, this most sophisticated fiction retains its peculiar power to move and persuade. Editor, Drenka Willen. (Sept.) FYI: Paperback editions of The History of the Siege of Lisbon and Baltasar and Blimunda will be issued simultaneously.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1st edition (September 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151002517
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151002511
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (691 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #840,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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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