Meike's Reviews > Die Stadt der Blinden

Die Stadt der Blinden by José Saramago
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really liked it
bookshelves: portugal, 2019-read

Saramago's Nobel prize is well-deserved: His writing is edgy and inventive, and while this is certainly no feel-good-lit, it is absorbing and fascinating. "Blindess" is a daring novel about human nature that avoids clichés and doesn't shy away from drastic descriptions. The story is more of a thought experiment: In an unnamed city, people suddenly start to go blind. The condition is spreading like an epidemic, and in an attempt to contain the disease, the blind are locked into a former mental home and prevented from escaping by armed soldiers. But the mysterious blindess cannot be explained and understood, and thus not contained...

Saramago plays with and subverts all kinds of tropes and ideas. "Blindness" can be read as an inverted version of Poe's The Masque of the Red Death, but more obviously, it refers to The Plague. In Camus' existentialist classic, the plague erupts, and the protagonist of the book is a doctor who goes on to do his job although he knows that he has no chance to beat this vicious opponent of an illness - he is like Sisyphus, performing a task both noble and absurd, while around him, the world crumbles. In "Blindness", one of the protagonists is an optometrist who has turned blind, and his wife is the only one who can still see inside the former mental hospital. Just like the plague, the spreading blindess randomly affects people - it's the futility, arbitrariness and resulting helplessness in the face of a world they cannot comprehend and master anymore that is the real challenge for the characters both in Camus' and in Saramago's books.

And then there are of course the different reactions to this threat: As the rule of law cannot be enforced anymore and there is no government as well as no property, Saramago's society of the blind, composed of people ruled only by fear, introduces us to a situation that is a mixture of what different philosophers imagined a "state of nature" could be, but while some people show solidarity and try to form groups to help and protect each other, life generally becomes dominated by violence and selfishness (hey, fellow PoliSci nerds: It would be interesting to try and identify different governmental theories in there). You certainly have to be interested in questions like "how do societies function?" in order to appreciate this text, because the story is not fast-paced and does not necessarily go for suspense.

Another interesting factor is Saramago's language, which is very dense. Most strikingly, there is a lot of dialogue, but there are no quotations marks, which plays well with the theme of blindess: You have to pay close attention where the voices are coming from in order to piece together who is speaking, because you don't see it, as the text does not clearly indicate it. I wouldn't say that the text is hard to read, but it sure makes the reader work.

So all in all, while I didn't absolutely love this (which is also true for "The Plague", btw), I can clearly see (haha, sorry) why "Blindess" is a classic: It's an important book and highly recommended.
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Reading Progress

March 17, 2017 – Shelved
March 17, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
April 6, 2019 – Started Reading
April 6, 2019 – Shelved as: portugal
April 27, 2019 – Shelved as: 2019-read
April 27, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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Sadie This has been sitting on my shelf for years, too... go ahead!


Meike Sadie wrote: "This has been sitting on my shelf for years, too... go ahead!"

...on mine as well, I really have to get to this one!! Would you like to join?


Sadie Meike wrote: "Sadie wrote: "This has been sitting on my shelf for years, too... go ahead!"

...on mine as well, I really have to get to this one!! Would you like to join?"


Oh yes, why not, let's do this! :D


Meike Yaaayyyy!!!!!!!


Sadie How exciting, our first read together! About time ;)


Meike Sadie wrote: "How exciting, our first read together! About time ;)"

Right! :-) That'll be fun!!


Sarah Oh I really hope you like this!


Meike Sarah wrote: "Oh I really hope you like this!"

Thank you, Sarah! It sure sounds amazing!!


Sadie Great review, as usual, and I made very similar reading experience.

You certainly have to be interested in questions like "how do societies function?" in order to appreciate this text, because the story is not fast-paced and does not necessarily go for suspense.

That's the question that usually interests me most in any kind of dystopian/post apocalyptic bookm (or show, like The Walking Dead, for that matter). How, if at all, will society survive? How long till morality and ethics go down the drain? I "enjoyed" Saramgo's take on that and yes, I'd also be very interested in the different governmental theories.


Meike Sadie wrote: "Great review, as usual, and I made very similar reading experience.
You certainly have to be interested in questions like "how do societies function?" in order to appreciate this text, because the..."


Thank you so much, Sadie!! (And I'm glad you joined Steffi's reading group as well! :-)) As you know, I'm also a total PoliSci nerd, so I just LOVE political novels that discuss societal problems, and I feel like Saramago employed the meta-level and wrote an allegorical/philosophical tale. Like in the case of Camus, the text felt sometimes a little too bloodless for me, but that says nothing at all about the quality of the book and everything about my personal taste! :-) I also have Seeing on my shelves, but frankly, I have no idea when to read it!!! :-(


Sadie Bloodless, yes, I know what you mean - but the funny thing is, that Saramago still hit all the right buttons with me, despite the text being so bloodless. I'm usually not too fine with that, either, but here, I was lucky with the timing of my reading with this book, I guess (and thanks, I'm glad I joined as well!)


Meike Sadie wrote: "Bloodless, yes, I know what you mean - but the funny thing is, that Saramago still hit all the right buttons with me, despite the text being so bloodless. I'm usually not too fine with that, either..."

I wouldn't even hold it against Saramago, because I think he had a certain narrative and aesthetic idea, and he went for that and fully got there, and that's what counts!


Sadie Meike wrote: "I wouldn't even hold it against Saramago, because I think he had a certain narrative and aesthetic idea, and he went for that and fully got there, and that's what counts!"

Very well said! :)


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