Blindness by José Saramago

2526Fiction — print. Translated from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1997. 293 pgs. Library copy.

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, Saramago’s novel follows unnamed people in an unnamed city in an unnamed country as they deal with the fallout from being suddenly struck blind. The Government (always spelled with a capital ‘G’ in the story) has rounded all of the afflicted people up and placed them inside an old insane asylum under the idea that the Government has a duty to protect the rest of its citizenry.

The soldiers standing guard at the gate have orders to shot any blind person who gets too close, and the people inside the asylum are left to fend for themselves. The Government provides food, but it’s not enough for all the people locked into this prison and certainly not enough when one ward begins to exploit the food supply for their own gain.

Definitely one of the more difficult book not only because of the subject matter but because of the formatting. There are no quotation marks; just a lot of commas. And there are also no names; the characters are identified by their physical traits or occupations.

While the novel looks at the worst of human behavior, it did not utterly disgust me until one ward took over the food supply and start demanding a certain form of payment for food. I put the book down in disgust and thought I would never finish it.

But the more and more I started thinking about the premise, the more it start to resonate in what I know of historical instances of the worst in human behavior. The premise may be a bit out there, but the book is written in such a personal way that it feels like this could really have happened. There is a fine line between the society we have now and on that falls off the edge into collapse.

This novel is not for the faint of heart as there are parts of it that are just downright disgusting. But it’s a thought-provoking book that I’m glad I read even if I not sure I can say I liked it.


  1. This is one of my favourite books. I agree it isn’t for the faint hearted, but I love the power of the words. I’m so pleased that you continued to the end – it is such a thought provoking book and I think it has the power to change the way you look at things. It is quite scary to think how quickly our society might break down if something went wrong 😦


  2. It was also an extremely difficult book to read for me (especially the parts about the food deals), but on the other hand it had such an impact! It’s one of those books you can’t ignore. My favorite Saramago is Baltazar & Blimunda. It’s actually his most famous book in Portugal and I think it’s interesting to see how very little of it I hear in international circles.


    • Yeah, that was a difficult part to get through. I haven’t even heard of the book you mentioned before! I’d like to read more books by Saramago so maybe I’ll start with that one.


  3. This is on my shelf as my second Saramago novel. I read Death with Interruptions a few months back and was blown away. Saramago’s style didn’t bother me as much as I’d anticipated. I’m really interested to read Blindness next.


    • I found it jarring because I wasn’t expected it. I just had to get used to it before I could really slip into the story, and I certainly will be more prepared in the future for any more of his books I read.


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