Blindness – A Book Review

For my first Lit Flicks Challenge book, I chose to read Blindness by Nobel prize winner Jose Saramago. The book was optioned in to a movie. I caught a glimpse of it a few months ago, and can’t wait to see it. It is an official selection of the Toronto Film Festival, as well as the Cannes Festival.

Blindness is the story of a society who’s citizens start going blind at an exponential rate.  It follows a group of people who are quarantined in a mental hospital as they are the first to go blind.  Our protagonist is the wife of an eye doctor (names are not used in the book, as the blind see little use for names-in fact there isn’t a single proper noun in the entire novel) who pretends to be blind so she can accompany her husband to the internment camp.

Those in the camp devolve quickly (in a similar style to Lord of the Flies) as they must fight for food rations, and for basic human rights.  The government fails to provide adequately for those quarantined and the conditions they live in are horrific, as the blindness is believed to be contagious epidemic, and no one will enter the hospital to help them.

Reading Blindness was a lot like being blind.  It’s difficult to maneuver (more difficult than expected), you’re not completely sure what’s happening around you, you feel like you’re probably missing something, and you’re not really sure where you’re going.  The book was originally written in Portuegese and it’s obvious that somethings didn’t translate very well (references to regular parts of European life that are completely foreign to Americans will be missed, or misunderstood).  Structurally, the writing was very confusing, as it’s not punctuated.  Long, drawn out conversations are not prefaced by who’s speaking, they’re not marked by quotation marks, and capitalization is sometimes utilized, but not always, making it unclear who is speaking.  The following is an example of such a conversation:

…As long as I can, the girl with dark glasses said, I’ll keep on hoping, hoping to find my parents, hoping the boy’s mother will turn up, You forgot to speak of the hope we all have, What’s that, Regaining our sight, It’s made to cling to such hopes, Well, I can tell you, without such hopes I would already have given up, Give me an example, Being able to see again, We’ve already had that one, give me another, I won’t, Why, You wouldn’t be interested…

Sentences like these run on for literally pages without a period, and without an explanation of who the conversation includes.

Although it was a struggle, I’m glad I stuck with Saramago, and finished this book.  The horrors he describes are so terrifying in that they could actually happen.  At first it was difficult for me to believe a government would take care of it’s citizens in need in such a poor fashion, but then I remembered the similar conditions of hurricane Katrina victims.  The scarcity of fuel, food, protection, all the basic human needs is a very viable situation if there was to be such an epidemic.  It really was an eye opening experience reading this book (pun intended).  I’d recommend this book wholeheartedly, with the disclaimer that it’s a fairly difficult read with some very explicit scenes (if the filmmakers show what Saramago actually describes, the film would most certainly be rated X, or at least NC-17).  I can’t wait to see director Fernando Meirelles does with this text (but truth be told, I’m praying that he changed the last three pages).


Below is the trailer for the film.

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4 Responses to “Blindness – A Book Review”
  1. Ira says:

    Небольшое напоминание 🙂
    -автограф в письменном виде
    -список фильмов (5 звёзд)
    и список книг (5 звёзд) не помешал бы тоже…

  2. Amber says:

    Interesting. I haven’t heard of this book or the movie before now.

  3. Nick says:

    I totally wanted to check this book out for a while now, though I’m not sure how I’d fare with the whole lack of punctuation thing. As a writer and an English major/soon-to-be teacher, I would probably be driven insane. But then again, I might get used to it pretty quickly.

    I went to buy it a while back, though, and the store didn’t have it (they did have its sequel, Sight, though, but I didn’t bother). I’ve been stuck reading stuff out of necessity as of late (for student teaching), though, but I just got over the last book I had to read, so now I’m open to read new stuff… at least for a little while. But before I started reading for teaching, I was in the middle of 1984, so I’ll probably get back to that… and then I have a whole list of other books to read, as well.

    In other words, I do really want to read this at some point. If I really try, I might go out and buy it before the movie comes out (which is next week, I think) and read it beforehand. We’ll see! (no pun intended).

  4. Jessica says:

    I thought I had commented on this before, but I must not have. Well, here’s my comment now. This sounds like a good book, but translations are really hard for me to read. Still, the Nobel-Prize-winning author is hard for me to refuse. I’ll have to check it out. (I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the movie.)

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