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Blindness (Harvest Book) by Jose Saramago
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Blindness (Harvest Book) (1995)

by Jose Saramago, Giovanni Pontiero (Translator)

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8,181254382 (4.12)5 / 425
Member:georgnbay
Title:Blindness (Harvest Book)
Authors:Jose Saramago
Other authors:Giovanni Pontiero (Translator)
Info:Harvest Books (1999), Edition: 1, Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:None

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Blindness by José Saramago (1995)

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English (203)  Spanish (13)  Dutch (12)  Italian (5)  French (4)  Swedish (4)  Catalan (3)  Portuguese (Brazil) (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (2)  German (1)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Hebrew (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (253)
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Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

Intro

Blindness is one of the book selections for this month in our book group, and I am, unfortunately for most, the moderator. I was trusted with the task because almost everyone knows how big a Saramago fan I am. I would say for the umpteenth time that Saramago is like a grandfather to me.

So the old man is dead but his novels are still alive. I can only hope that they will outlive us all. The Nobel laureate was a prolific writer despite starting his literary career way past his prime. But they say that life begins at 40. It never is too late then.

This book has a film adaptation that features the beautiful Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. They seem to be always together, huh? That film, The Kids Are All Right? But let’s not talk about that.

The Rhapsody

Blindness is a dystopian novel that shows us the possible effects if the people of a sound society lose their sense of sight. As much as possible, we don’t want to favor any of our five senses because each has its own importance. But darn it, the sense of sight seems to be the most important. If we don’t have that, we wouldn’t be writing blogs. Right?

Unless the Internet turns to Braille. Anyway, I will try to do this post differently from the rest of the Friday posts. I came up with a series of postulates for the book talk that I was talking about earlier. This is an attempt to somehow keep the thread rolling. But, it somehow died. Maybe because I didn’t give much focus on it, what with the swamping of work and whatnot.

Anyway, let me proceed with those. They are the dominant themes of the book.

1. The fragility of society - the loss of sight of the characters in the novel dismantled the gears of the society. Agree or disagree? – Agree. The opening paragraph describes a taxi driver turning blind while waiting for the traffic lights to go green. No, I don’t intend to point at the gears of the taxi, but think about it. How could society perform its daily tasks if the simple following of traffic rules cannot be done?

2. Human nature - the novel presents humans as selfish beings whose sole instinct is to survive. Agree or disagree? - I agree. A lot of novels have already expounded on this, but there can’t seem to be enough of them. Besides, I find these novels really good. Remember Joseph Conrad? And Lord of the Flies? Whether we like it or not, everything that we do boils down to survival. Don’t even try to deny it.

3. Gender relations - gender roles are modified. Although the doctor’s wife continued to lead the group, women are still presented as beings subservient to men as seen in the trading of women for food. Agree or disagree? – Again, I have to agree. How repulsive it is to sell women in exchange of food. An empty stomach fails to recognize the bonds of marriage. And why not sell the men instead of women? Because there were no gay people around?

4. Blindness - we can never be physically blind, but we are blind in a lot of ways. Agree or disagree? – Agree, agree, agree! Not everything is as it seems, says the character of Kirsten Dunst in Mona Lisa Smile. It’s because there is a lot more than what is seen on the surface. Perhaps the reason our eyes are placed directly in front of our brains is to use them together.

5. Memory and history - the loss of sight can affect how the future will be. History is just an unfathomable void if the blindness in the novel continued to spread and did not stop. Agree or disagree? – Hmm, I am not so sure about this, because there are assumptions that Homer the Greek poet is blind. And he wrote the classics Iliad and Odyssey, which are not strictly historical, but I hope you get the drift. So what should I do? Hmm. I guess I will have to abstain for now.

6. The Soul - the eyes are the windows of the soul. Therefore, without our sense of sight, our souls are lost as well. Agree or disagree? – I beg to disagree. I think there is more to the soul than the eyes. Yes, eyes are expressive, but our souls can be bared in a lot of ways. Stretch your imagination!

7. Disease - disease is something that merely causes pain or discomfort. Agree or disagree? – No, no! What of the pain of unrequited love? Is that a disease? And guilt. It causes discomfort, but is it a disease? They can be metaphorical diseases, but let’s just keep the definition of disease here as something that is physical.

Final Notes

One of the members who read this book said that she needs to recover from the strong feelings that were evoked in her. Yes, the narrative could twist your guts. This is not even gore, but an engrossed reader would not be able to help it.

I cannot imagine a world if I am somehow robbed of my sense of sight. It is just unthinkable. And what of people who were born blind? Well, one cannot really miss what he never had, right?

This book made me see the what-ifs that I’d rather not ponder. Not only the immediate effects of losing your sight, but almost everything. I think I am fawning too much on Saramago, but I can’t help it. The man has a wild imagination. I may be a blind fan of his, but that’s okay. His books are more than worthy of my time. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
Blindness seemed quite a "slog" is because it tended to go on and on. The conversations without punctuation didn't bother me all that much because I was usually pretty clear who said what, although I will admit that I did go back to reread a few of its passages to clarify this issue.

The premise is interesting. A bout of "white blindness" sweeps the entire population. When this affliction only affects only a few people, they were placed in quarantine. However, when the blindness becomes more rampant, the government security in charge of this quarantine area abandoned its residents and they are left to fend for themselves. No names are ever used for the main characters, although the reader gets to know them quite well by their description.

I think the idea of this novel was to show how people, when reduced to their basics, are all the same. With eyesight, we "see" without seeing. Without eyesight, we sometimes "see" even more.

The end of this story surprised me. Now I do want to read its sequel, "Seeing". I want to see if the message I gleaned from this first book carries through in its sequel.

Hey, maybe "slog" was too rough of a word. Maybe "slog-lite" would be a better way to describe my feelings as I worked my way through this story. ( )
  SqueakyChu | Apr 17, 2014 |
The book, written by the Portuguese writer José Saramago, tells a ficticious story about tragedy and humanity. A white type of blindness is spread all over the world, affecting every human being on the planet. Without being able to see, humans will try to survive no matter what they have to do. However, the main character is a woman that pretends to be affected by the blindness but is actually not. Through her eyes, the reader can see how humans really are when there is nothing left to lose and when survival is the only thing that matters.
  sanabriass | Mar 24, 2014 |
I have had a difficult time writing an appropriate review for this book. On the one hand it was profound, philosophical, uncomfortably realistic in the sense of human nature. On the other hand, the punctuation is lacking, as is appropriate word choice to tell an engaging story. Half way through I was still wondering why this book was written. The author seems so passive in regards to actions and events that, in most cases, should cause outrage, panic, disgust, disappointment, or anger. The narrator's voice is incredibly nonchalant about these atrocities and that never really changes. I was also unhappy with the way the narrator suddenly becomes not only self aware in parts of the book, but aware of the reader as well, to the point that the narrator addresses the reader in a way.

The last thing I will say is that I was very disappointed in the conclusion. Like the author got himself into a hole he couldn't get out of, so he just decided there was no longer a hole. Don't be lazy. The premise was good, the story could have been told better but was also good, please take the time to come up with an acceptable ending. ( )
  alb2219 | Mar 19, 2014 |
A mere 326 pages that felt more like 3,000. To sum it up, hell is other people, or perhaps reading this book. I desperately need to read something light now. ( )
  viviennestrauss | Mar 9, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (28 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Saramago, Joséprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davies, JonathanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lemmens, HarrieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mertin, Ray-GüdeÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pontiero, GiovanniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weissová, LadaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
If you can see, look.

If you can look, observe.

-- From the Book of Exhortations
Dedication
For Pilar
For my daughter Violante
First words
The amber light came on.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156007754, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:25 -0400)

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"A city is struck by an epidemic of "white blindness." Authorities confine the blind to a vacant mental hospital secured by armed guards under instructions to shoot anyone trying to escape. Inside, the criminal element among the blind holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and assaulting women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers--among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears--through the barren streets, and the procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. A magnificent parable of loss and disorientation and a vivid evocation of the horrors of the twientieth century, Blindness is a powerful portrayal of man's worst appetites and weaknesses--and man's ultimately exhilarating spirit"--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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