From the Publisher
"This is a shattering work by a literary master."—The Boston Globe
"This is an important book, one that is unafraid to face all of the horrors of the century."—The Washington Post
"Symphonic . . . [There is] a clear-eyed and compassionate acknowledgment of things as they are, a quality that can only honestly be termed wisdom. We should be grateful when it is handed to us in such generous measure."—The New York Times Book Review
A bold piece of work -- almost biblical in scale and style, hauntingly sustained.
More frightening than Stephen King, as unrelenting as a bad dream, José Saramago's Blindness politely rubs our faces in apocalypse. Its detailed history of an unaccountable epidemic of "white blindness" that inundates the nameless inhabitants of a nameless country makes you fear for your own sight: Have the corners of the pages dimmed ever so slightly? Saramago won this year's Nobel Prize for literature, and at 76 his powers have not dimmed: This fable is so unsettling, so limitlessly allegorical -- the Holocaust, AIDS and Bosnia come to mind -- that it feels infinite. "The whole world is right here," one character tells another. Blindness merely amplifies everyone's fundamental helplessness and interdependence and makes plain the lies they tell themselves to get through the day. As a blind ophthalmologist puts it, his useless expertise an emblem of the surplus with which we all burden ourselves, "Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are."
In Saramago's view, that truth is what we cannot bear to see. Strip away the power of our eyes, "the windows to the soul" -- a metaphor with which the author teases us repeatedly -- and what's left, he suggests, is little more than ravenous beasts mauling their competitors in the fight for survival. "Evil ... as everyone knows, has always been the easiest thing to do." The reasoned calm with which Saramago depicts the unspeakable (as society collapses outside its walls, the main characters, the first to go blind, struggle for survival inside the asylum in which they have been quarantined) makes the reader long for mercy, for some release from the suffering. And even when that release comes, when the inmates escape the asylum to wander a world gone blind, it's hard to know what to make of it. Are we better off learning to live with our blindness or glorying in what little we can see? And when sight returns, what seems at first to be a happy ending may be anything but.
A metaphor like "white blindness" might easily seem forced or labored, but Saramago makes it live by focusing on the stubbornly literal; his account of a clump of newly blind people trying to find their way to food or to the bathroom provides some surprisingly gripping passages. While this epidemic has a clear symbolic burden, it's also a real and very inconvenient affliction. Saramago is familiar with this balancing act: he has an affinity for skepticism, and his curling, run-on sentences, some of them lasting several ages, have the dense eventfulness, but rarely the tilt into fantasy, of Gabriel García Márquez's in Autumn of the Patriarch. The result is a minute study of how effortlessly we can be divested of all that we call "humanity," how fear and selfishness conspire to let us do our worst. "God does not deserve to see," thinks the doctor at the book's lowest point, and Saramago's powerful achievement is to make his readers wonder: What have we wrought by choosing so selectively what we can bear to look in the face? -- Salon
. . .[T]he story. . .lives in the spread of its particulars, and in the conviction of its allegory. . . .We are all . ..confirming ourselves by closing our eyes and thinking of each other. The New Republic
. . .[T]his year's most propulsive, and most profound, thriller. . .
Saramago's chilling thriller about an epidemic of "white blindness" that affects everyone in its path is a truly remarkable tale of loss and a metaphor for the horrors of humankind. With such a large and varying cast of characters including young children, a mother and an elderly man, narrator Jonathan Davis gives a truly rousing performance and displays his wide-ranging ability. Each character is original and believable in the face of this unbelievable epidemic. Davis's reading puts his audience in a bright white place, where little is visual save for the listeners' imaginations running wild. Davis's voice paints a vivid portrait. A Harcourt paperback (Reviews, July 13, 1998). (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
To describe as allegory this story of unnamed characters in an unnamed city who are struggling with an undiagnosed epidemic of "white blindness" is both too simple and too complex. Beyond any emblematic purpose, the characters act out life with all its paradoxes and hidden truths. Ultimately, the greater meaning here is the simple story of human frailty and community in the modern world. In searing prose, both complex and minimal, all this and nothing more is revealed. No wonder Saramago won the Nobel prize this year. (LJ 8/98)
[Blindness] is a shattering work by a literary master. -- The Boston Globe
Saramago is the most tender of writers. . .[he has] a quality that can only honestly be termed wisdom. -- The New York Times Book Review
The Missouri Review
Saramago's fine balance between believable narration and philosophical meditation will pull in the intelligent reader and keep her there...Saramago has created a story and characters that will remain with the reader a very long time.
The embattled relationships among the people of a city mysteriously struck by an epidemic of blindness form the core of this superb novel by the internationally acclaimed Saramago, the Portugese author of, most recently, The History of the Siege of Lisbon. A driver stalled at a busy intersection suddenly suffers an attack of 'white blindness' (no other color, or any shape, is discernible). The 'false Samaritan' who helps him home and then steals his car is the next victim. A busy ophthalmologist follows, then two of his patients. And on it goes, until the city's afflicted blind are 'quarantined' in an unused mental ward; the guards ensuring their incarceration panic and begin to shoot; and a paternalistic 'Ministry' runs out of strategies to oversee 'an uprooted, exhausted world' in a state of escalating chaos. But then, as abruptly as the catastrophe began, everything changes in a wry denouement suggesting that what we've observed (as it were) amounts to an existential test of these characters' courage and mutual tolerance. But Blindness never feels like a lesson, thanks to Saramago's mastery of plot, urbane narration (complete with irreverent criticisms of its own digressiveness), and resourceful characterizations. All the people are nameless ('the girl with the dark glasses,' 'the boy with the squint'), but we learn an enormous amount about them, and the central figure, the ophthalmologist's wife, who pretends to be blind in order to accompany her husband, is triumphantly employed as both viewpoint character and (as a stunning final irony confirms) 'the leader of the blind.' Echoes of Orwell's 1984 and images hinting at Holocaust experiences enrich the textureof a brilliant allegory that may be as revolutionary in its own way and time as were, say, The Trial and The Plague in theirs. Another masterpiece.