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Blindness by Saramago: Non-1001 Book review


Blindness by José Saramago
Published in: 1995
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 4 stars
Find it/Buy it here: Blindness (Harvest Book)

Synopsis: A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” and one by one every citizen loses their ability to see. During early phases of the epidemic, the authorities attempt to contain the disease by setting up quarantine zones in various locations. A group of characters who are among the first to become blind, find themselves quarantined in an old mental institution. As the epidemic spreads and society starts to break down, more and more “inmates” join the original group until the place becomes saturated. Among the blind, there is one woman who retains her eyesight. This woman, “the doctor’s wife,” pretends to be blind in order to avoid being separated from her husband. She becomes the central character in the story and ultimately leads the group through a variety of harrowing experiences. Blindness is more than just a apocalyptic tale. It is a story of the merits and downfalls of human nature that is both terrifying and uplifting.

Review: Saramago is a prominently featured author in the 1001 books to read before you die list. In fact, I read this book because I mistakenly thought it was one of the 1001 books. But it was a worthwhile mistake because I ultimately ended up enjoying this book. The prose is different, with minimal punctation, shifting tenses, changing perspectives from first to third narratives, and use of stream-of-consciousness narrative.

Blindness is disturbing and thought-provoking. There were several scenes that I found very difficult to get through because of the graphic nature of the descriptions of violence (both sexual violence and non-sexual violence). At one point, I almost I put the book down, but I pushed through and was rewarded. In this case, the violence was necessary for the plot and didn’t feel gratuitous. It was disturbing to read but, it was useful as a plot structure in highlighting both then negative qualities of many human beings and the resilience and strength of others.

I found the whole story to be terrifying. Imagine if such a scenario were to occur (not specifically the way it does in this story, but in any scenario with a collapse of society)? How would people react? Would human nature be to destroy others at the expense of saving ourselves? Or, would we form relationships and demonstrate altruistic behaviors? Saramago raises these issues and more throughout the book. There are many doomsday books on the market today, but this book is different in that the focus is more about a reflection of human strengths and weakness. Common themes in the book include memory and history, gender relations, memory and history, the fragility of society, human nature, the nature of the soul, and many more. It’s a thinking person’s apocalyptic tale filled philosophical questions (e.g., why Blindness, and what does this signify?).

Warning: I would recommend this book, but be forewarned that there is a significant amount of violence and one fairly graphic rape scene.

Quotes I enjoyed:

Forget the sophisms, muttered his conscience, and get on your way.”

“just as well that we are still capable of weeping, tears are often our salvation, there are times when we could die if we did not weep…”

“We are so afraid of the idea of having to die, said the doctor’s wife, that we always try to find excuses for the dead, as if we were asking beforehand to be excused when it is our turn.”


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