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Blindness, by José Saramago

24 Mar

Blindness‘ original Portuguese title is Ensaio sobre a Cegueira (literal translation: Essay on Blindness). Written by Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese author José Saramago, it’s one of his most famous novels. It was later adapted into a movie of the same name by Fernando Meirelles.

Blindness tells the story of an unexplained mass epidemic of “white blindness” that affects nearly everyone in an unnamed city. The government, in an attempt to contain the contagion, places those affected by it in quarantine. What follows are the consequences to not only those affected by this new blindness, but to society as a whole.

Like other books by Saramago, it contains many long, breathless sentences. The only punctuation marks used are commas and periods, and the lack of exclamation or interrogation marks can take some getting used to. It also lacks quotation marks for its dialogues. The dialogue is characterized by commas followed by capital letters. The characters are referred to by their position or some other characteristic (“the doctor’s wife,” “man with black eye patch”) rather than by their names.

I’ve read the book twice already, first in Portuguese then in English, and I know I’ll read it again at some point in my life. I think the author does a wonderful job at writing the scenes in a way you can actually visualize what is happening. The scenes are not always pleasant, but are written in such an interesting way I couldn’t put the book down. It’s a book that makes you think about ethics, about human rights, about how we, as a society, behave in extreme situations, and about man’s will to survive against all odds. I definitely recommend this book.

A few quotes from the book:

“Why did we become blind, I don’t know, perhaps one day we’ll find out, Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.”

“You never know beforehand what people are capable of, you have to wait, give it time, it’s time that rules, time is our gambling partner on the other side of the table and it holds all the cards of the deck in its hand, we have to guess the winning cards of life, our lives.”

“Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are.”

“(…) if, before every action, we were to begin by weighing up the consequences, thinking about them in earnest, first the immediate consequences, then the probable, then the possible, then the imaginable ones, we should never move beyond the point where our first thought brought us to a halt. The good and evil resulting from our words and deeds go on apportioning themselves, one assumes in a reasonably uniform and balanced way, throughout all the days to follow, including those endless days, when we shall not be here to find out, to congratulate ourselves or ask for pardon, indeed there are those who claim that this is the much-talked-of immortality (…)”

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