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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.

translated from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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ISBN-10:  0156007754
ISBN-13:  978-0156007757
Author:  Jose Saramago
Genre:  Literature & Fiction
Publisher:  Harvest Books
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More Blindness (book) reviews
Quick Tip by . June 14, 2010
Exciting. Scary.
review by . July 23, 2009
Firstly, I want to start by saying that this was one of the scariest books that I have ever read.     A city is hit by an epidemic of "white blindness" which spares no one. Authorities begin by quarantining the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and raping women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers. I really liked the way that nobody in the story had a name (i.e.: the …
review by . January 09, 2008
My track record with foreign Nobel laureates leaves something to be desired. Somewhere in a box in my apartment there is a book by Patrick White. I've read the first 30 pages three times. Every trip to the bookstore involves wilful ignoring of undoubtedly worthy offerings by Naguib Mahfouz and Wole Soyinka, with Orhan Pamuk joining the list of guilt triggers last year. If it weren't for my totally catholic reading tastes in college (Canetti, Sartre, Lessing, Gordimer, Grass, Hesse, Milosz), my record …
review by . August 20, 2007
Jose Saramago is another of the Nobel Prize for Literature winners of whom I was blissfully unaware until I heard about Blindness, the novel that won him that prize. But now I can easily understand why this Portuguese writer was chosen for the award.    Much of Blindness, set in an unnamed major city of an unnamed country, has somewhat of a fairy tale feel to it. That feel comes from the way that government officials and the military react when faced with a sudden epidemic of …
review by . August 09, 2005
While for a while I felt myself put off by Saramago's continual digressions, or side remarks, after a while they became charming and occasionally brilliant and I found myself caught up in the story as if I were trusting a quirky but fascinating storyteller. It really does feel like that -- what it takes to read this is to trust that the narrator (who rambles on a bit or makes comments on the side, to relate awkwardly translated but still apt sayings to the events or to anticipate rightly or wrongly …
review by . September 27, 2003
"Blindness was spreading, not like a sudden tide flooding everything and carrying all before it, but like an insidious infiltration of a thousand and one turbulent rivulets which, having slowly drenched the earth, suddenly submerge it completely." - from "Blindness" by José SaramagoLook around you for a moment, take in your surroundings. Now imagine that you cannot see these words you're reading, or the page in front of you, or the people near you. Imagine, instead, that your vision has been blasted …
review by . November 10, 1998
"Blindness" by Jose Saramago does what few novels accomplish - delivers a monumnetally soul searching journey for 20th century man in an eloquent literary style. It is rare for a first chapter to provide an overture so succinct, suggesting the seeds of everything that is to follow, introduce a subtle and difficult writing style to tell a bizarre story, and still capture the reader's attention so securely that makes us feel as though we are on a locomotive ride to an inexorable end. Without names …
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