Fiction — 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.