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Blindness by José Saramago

From Nobel Prize–winning author José Saramago, a magnificent, mesmerizing parable of loss

A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” that spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and assaulting women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides her charges—among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears—through the barren streets, and their procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. As Blindness reclaims the age-old story of a plague, it evokes the vivid and trembling horrors of the twentieth century, leaving readers with a powerful vision of the human spirit that’s bound both by weakness and exhilarating strength.

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Praise for Blindness:

“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

“Saramago’s surreal allegory explores the ability of the human spirit to prevail in even the most absurdly unjust of conditions, yet he reinvents this familiar struggle with the stylistic eccentricity of a master.”
The New Yorker

“Extraordinarily nuanced and evocative . . . This year’s most propulsive, and most profound, thriller.”
The Village Voice

“Like Jonathan Swift, Saramago uses airily matter-of-fact detail to frame a bitter parable; unlike Swift he pierces the parable with a dart of steely tenderness . . . out of leisurely prose, the ferocity and tenderness shoot suddenly: arrows set alight. . . . Enchanting, sinuous dialogue.”
The Los Angeles Times

Blindness may be as revolutionary in its own way and time as were, say, The Trial and The Plague in theirs. Another masterpiece.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


This is a review from 2012 on Goodreads it was fun to write now here with new page, that never was made back then, along with all the world book covers. I may revisit this great tale again in 2019 but for now here is how it went.

One by one
the people are stricken by an insidious contagion.
There is no class
no race
or religion
It strikes those in its proximity relentlessly
and indiscriminately.
Unforgivingly it takes hostage of the denizens of a town and slowly it works it way through the whole government.
Desperate people in desperate times, do desperate things and the author has here puts you amidst this desperation and turmoil.
It’s ugly and it’s compassionate the scenario, there is no ugliness of the eye but ugliness via the nose.
They become humbled and changed without their sight despite all the terrible and brutal days they have to endure.
There is also something more powerful at work in this great story
A contagious force that works indiscriminately
Weans its way into and through the obscure and closed heart
It will prevail and instil something magically
Love and hope
To survive they need it.
A wonderful story of love is embedded in this bleak scenario
Love a resilience in the face of adversity.
The band of people
the struggling few that keep together
realise their greatness in numbers
but not only that
the ones in this story you walk with feel possibly some comfort due to the companion of one gifted and lucky soul.
A numbing experience watching the person you love before you loose command over their wellbeing
their helplessness in things we take for granted on a daily basis.
The paralysis they endure is one that remains etched in the minds of many.
They have hope.
This band you follow must survive without walking the line of barbarism like many have done.
The women become bargaining subjects for food their suffering heard and felt and so the land is stricken with the same calamity repeated in many corners.
The author takes you from the beginning with
The first blinded man in this contagion
and keeps you with this first group contained left to their own devices
eventually abandoned by a government who becomes none existent.
This story of people overcome by virus, diseases and zombie plagues has been told many times before.
I like the way this author has told this.
It would be better for the reader to have not seen the movie adaptation first.
The plight of the parties involved keeps you hooked to the eventually end of the affair
their end
their surviving
or their falling.
This story highlights a situation that could be true to any souls that fall victim to a plague or chemical warfare.
The tragedy, the horror evokes and illuminates a humanity in some people
loving and helping one another
while others want to abuse the situation.
A calamity
A darkness
White blindness
a story that is thought provoking and heartfelt
a powerful fable
told in a flowing prose.


“When they’d woke up in their ward and found they were blind and started bemoaning their fate, the others put them out without a moments hesitation, without even giving them time to take their leave of any relatives or friends who might be with them. The doctor’s wife remarked, it would be best if they could be counted and each person gave their name. Motionless, the blind internees hesitated, but someone had to make a start, two of the men spoke at once, it always happens, both then fell silent, and it was the third man who began, Number One, he paused, it seemed he was about to give his name, but what he said was, I’m a policeman, and the doctor’s wife thought to herself, he didn’t give his name, he too knows that names are of no importance here. Another man was introducing himself, Number two, and he followed the example of the first man, I’m a taxi driver. The third man said, Number Three, I’m a pharmacist’s assistant. Then a woman spoke up, Number four , I’m a hotel maid, and the last one of all, Number five, I work in an office. That’s my wife, my wife, where are you, tell me where you are, here, I’m here, she said bursting into tears and walking unsteadily along the aisle with her eyes wide open, her hands struggling against the milky sea flooding into them. More confident, he advanced towards her, where are you, where are you, he was now murmuring as if in prayer. One hand found another, the next moment they were embracing, a single body, kisses in search of kisses, at times lost in mid-air for they could not see each others cheeks, eyes, lips. Sobbing, the doctor’s wife clung to her husband, as if she, too, had just been reunited, but what she was saying was, This is terrible, a real disaster. Then the voice of the boy with the squint could be heard asking, Is my mummy here as well. Seated on his bed, the girl with dark glasses murmured, She’ll come, don’t worry, she’ll come.”

“Now, with all the beds occupied, all two hundred and forty, not counting the blind inmates who have to sleep on the floor, no imagination, however fertile and creative in making comparisons, images and metaphors, could aptly describe the filth here. It is not just the state to which the lavatories were soon reduced, fetid caverns such as the gutters in hell full of condemned souls must be, but also the lack of respect shown by some of the inmates or the sudden urgency of others that turned the corridors and other passageways into latrines at first, only occasionally but now as a matter of habit.”

“You have no idea what it is like to watch two blind people fighting, fighting has always been, more or less, a form of blindness, This is different, Do what you think best, but don’t forget what we are here, blind, simply blind, blind people with no fine speeches or commiserations, the charitable, picturesque world of the little blind orphans is finished, we are now in the harsh, cruel, implacable kingdom of the blind, If only you could see what I am obliged to see, you would want to be blind, Forgive me, my love, if you only knew, I know, I know, I’ve spent my life looking into people’s eyes, it is the only part of the body where a soul might still exist and if those eyes are lost, Tomorrow I’m going to tell them I can see, let’s hope you won’t live to regret it, Tomorrow I’ll tell them, she paused the added, Unless by then I, too, have finally entered their world.”

“They cannot imagine that there are moreover three naked women out there, as naked as when they came into the world, they seem to be mad, they must be mad, people in their right mind do not start washing on a balcony exposed to the view of the neighbourhood, even less looking like that, what does it matter that we are all blind, these are things one must not do, my God, how the rain is pouring down on them, how it trickles between their breasts, how it lingers and is disappears into the darkness of their pubis, how it finally drenches and flows over their thighs, perhaps we have judged them wrongly, or perhaps we are unable to see this is the most beautiful and glorious thing that has happened in the history of the city, a sheet of foam flows from the floor of the balcony, if only I could go with it, falling interminably, clean, purified, naked. Only God sees us, said the wife of the first blind man, who, despite disappointments and setbacks, clings to the belief that God is not blind, to which the doctor’s wife replies, Not even he, the sky is clouded over, Only I can see you, Am I ugly, asked the girl with the dark glasses, You are skinny and dirty, you will never be ugly, And I, asked the wife of the first blind man, You are dirty and skinny like her, not as pretty, but more than I, You are beautiful, said the girl with the dark glasses, How do you know, since you have never seen me, I have dreamt of you twice, When, The second time was last night, You were dreaming about the house because you felt safe and calm, it’s only natural after all we’ve been through, in your dream I was the home, and in order to see me you needed a face, so you invented it, I too see you as a beautiful, and I never dreamt of you, said the wife of the first blind man, Which only goes to show that blindness is the good fortune of the ugly, You are not ugly, No, as a matter of fact I am not, but at my age, How old are you, asked the girl with the dark glasses, Getting on for fifty, Like my mother, And her, Her, what, Is she beautiful, She was more beautiful once, that’s what happens to all of us, we were all more beautiful once, You were never more beautiful, said the wife of the first blind man. Words are like that, they deceive, they pile up, it seems they do not know where to go, and, suddenly, because of two or three or four that suddenly come out, simple in themselves, a personal pronoun, an adverb, an adjective, we have the excitement of seeing them coming irresistibly to the surface through the skin and the eyes and upsetting the composure of our feelings, sometimes the nerves that cannot bear it any longer, they put up with a great deal, they put up with everything, it was as if they were wearing armour, we might say, The doctor’s wife has nerves of steel, and yet the doctor’s wife is reduced to tears because of a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, mere grammatical categories, mere labels, just like the two women, the others, indefinite pronouns, they too are crying, they embrace the woman of the whole sentence, three graces beneath the falling rain.”

José de Sousa Saramago was a Nobel-laureate Portuguese novelist, playwright, and journalist. He was a member of the Portuguese Communist Party.
His works, some of which can be seen as allegories, commonly present subversive perspectives on historic events, emphasizing the human factor rather than the officially sanctioned story. Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998. He founded the National Front for the Defense of Culture (Lisbon, 1992) with among others Freitas-Magalhaes. He lived on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain, where he died in June 2010.

A foundation with his name was established in 2007; its main aims are cultural promotion, particularly of Portuguese literature and authors. The José Saramago Foundation is currently based in Casa dos Bicos, a Portuguese landmark building in Lisbon. Saramago’s house in Lanzarote is also open to the public.

José Saramago, together with his wife Pilar, were the subject of the award-winning documentary José e Pilar, providing us with a glimpse into their love story and life, as he was writing his A Viagem do Elefante.