Lisa's Reviews > Blindness

Blindness by José Saramago
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, nobels, so-good-it-hurts, unforgettable

Imagine the most ordinary situation in the world.

People waiting at a traffic light. All of us can see that before our inner eyes, relive thousands of similar situations we have experienced ourselves, without ever giving them a moment of consideration. Thus starts Saramago's Blindness. But there is a disruption. One car is not following the rules all take for granted. The car doesn't move when the light switches to green. People are annoyed, frustrated, disturbed in their routines, but not worried:

"Some drivers have already got out of their cars, prepared to push the stranded vehicle to a spot where it will not hold up the traffic, they beat furiously on the closed windows, the man inside turns his head in their direction, he is clearly shouting something, to judge by the movements of his mouth he appears to be repeating some words, not one word but three, as turns out to be the case when someone finally manages to open the door, I am blind."

I AM BLIND. This is the beginning of what my son labelled the scariest book he ever read, and yet such a perfectly brilliant masterpiece. Similar to Camus' La peste and Ionesco's Rhinocéros in more than one respect, it takes the reader to the darkest abyss of despair and filth and pain.

Deprived of the sense of seeing, the characters have to cope with brutal bestiality and suffering to survive in a world limited by the loss of vision - an accurate symbol for overview, control, and objective judgement of reality. If Camus' characters are invaded by plague-stricken rats and dying of the disease, Saramago's society breaks down even more completely when the epidemic blindness strikes. Humans turn into beasts, comparable to the rhinofication in Ionesco's allegory on community collapse.

One character, a Cassandra of sorts, is excluded from the plague, and she guides the plot with her seeing eyes. What she sees is unbearable, even to the reader. Rarely have I felt more shaken than while reading the scene with the blind thugs raping hungry women. The seeing woman steps in and uses her power to break off the horror show, but it will leave a scar on my reading inner eye forever. Bizarrely, that means a scene I never actually saw is engraved on my visual memory.

When reflecting on why the women didn't fight back from the beginning when the opportunist gangsters started to take control of the blind community, they give the same reasons as so many women facing sexual abuse:

"We failed to put up resistance as we should have done when they first came making demands, Of course, we were afraid and fear isn't always a wise counsellor..."

Desperate needs, inequality of power, shameless gang mentality, helplessness in an exposed situation, loss of control, all these things play a role. And the humiliation of being exploited as an object without individual value is not diminished in blindness. Inside, we remain seeing.

An allegory of the breakdown of civilisation, Blindness is also the story of those who finally start resisting raw violence and brutal force, and of those who see through the darkness. However, even as the blind spell breaks, and people are regaining their vision, the world is changed forever. Blindness has become a real threat, a terrifying possibility lurking underneath everyday worries. If it can happen once, it can happen again. And who knows when? You may be waiting at a traffic light, and all of a sudden, life goes white...

The one person who remains seeing through the whole catastrophe realises in the end that people might not actually have been literally blind at all:

"Blind people who can see, but do not see."

That is a tragic reflection on humankind. We turn to mass blindness in periods, not because we are physically unable to see, but because we DO not see. We can see, we have the tools for seeing, but we do not use them - not as long as the cars keep moving when the traffic lights turn green. We only start to see that we do not see when we turn blind and there is a disruption in our unseeing complacency.

We sometimes need an epidemic blindness to wake up and see what happens underneath the polished surface of our civilisation.

Let's use our eyes, literally and figuratively, to see what we need to see. Let's not turn a blind eye to the world's troubles! We know we can easily fall into the barbaric state of blindness. It has happened before.

Let's not forget blindness in order to keep our vision clear.
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Reading Progress

June 24, 2014 – Shelved
June 25, 2014 – Shelved as: favorites
June 26, 2014 – Shelved as: nobels
Started Reading
November 10, 2017 – Shelved as: so-good-it-hurts
November 10, 2017 – Shelved as: unforgettable
November 10, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)

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Tariq Fadel It also shows how our belief of being different from animals is grossly incorrect. As soon as society collapses we revert to our true state; animals. We no longer value morality and have no sense of right and wrong. These are superficial values on top of the values that truly guide our lifes; eating and procreating.


message 2: by Manuel (new)

Manuel Antão Imagine you had read this in Portuguese...

For Meirelles, the story about a whole society that goes blind was about the fragility of the veneer of civilisation, and how rapidly it could break down into violent mayhem. For Saramago, the device of mass blindness simply exposed society for what it already is, anatomising the stark workings of power and who controls it. His experience had already laid that bare to him.


Lisa Manuel wrote: "Imagine you had read this in Portuguese...

For Meirelles, the story about a whole society that goes blind was about the fragility of the veneer of civilisation, and how rapidly it could break down..."


Yes, that is so true! I wish I could read Saramago in Portuguese, Manuel. I have actually tried, but I didn't understand enough. I read one in Italian, though, which was closer than the other languages I can choose from. But it is never the same as reading the original. Saramago is one of my most beloved authors!


Lisa Rat de bibliothèque wrote: "I deeply admire you perseverance, Lisa.

The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend."


That is a perfect reflection of what Saramago described, Jean-Paul!


Lisa Tariq wrote: "It also shows how our belief of being different from animals is grossly incorrect. As soon as society collapses we revert to our true state; animals. We no longer value morality and have no sense o..."

Only humans seem to be able to show far more "bestiality" than most other animals do against their own species! Such a sad track record for us.


Alexandra Eines meiner Lieblingsbücher - kennst Du auch die Stadt der Sehenden?


Lisa Alexandra wrote: "Eines meiner Lieblingsbücher - kennst Du auch die Stadt der Sehenden?"

Ich habe es zu Hause - auf Deutsch! Ist es eine Fortsetzung oder freihstehend?


Czarny Pies Unfortunately Blindness is only the first half of the story. Things take a very nasty turn in the second half.


Gabriele Brilliant review, Lisa! I have read "Blindness" many years ago and I still remember lively how deeply disturbing and shaking the impression has been.


message 10: by Ivana (new)

Ivana Books Are Magic Great review!


Harry Collier IV Make sure to read the sequel "Seeing" as well. I liked the premise of it as much if not more than "Blindness." It really shows how fragile our systems of society are and just how far the people in power will go to protect a flawed system.


message 12: by Eleanor (new)

Eleanor Another great and thought-provoking review Lisa.


message 13: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Czarny wrote: "Unfortunately Blindness is only the first half of the story. Things take a very nasty turn in the second half."

I haven't read the second part yet. I have it at home, so I will try to get to it soon.


message 14: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Gabriele wrote: "Brilliant review, Lisa! I have read "Blindness" many years ago and I still remember lively how deeply disturbing and shaking the impression has been."

Thank you, Gabriele! It is indeed one of my most powerful, hauntingreading experiences!


message 15: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Ivana wrote: "Great review!"

Thank you, Ivana!


message 16: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Ansbro Wonderful, as ever. Lisa.


message 17: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Marita wrote: "Brilliant review, Lisa. Thank you."

Thank you, Marita!


message 18: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Harry wrote: "Make sure to read the sequel "Seeing" as well. I liked the premise of it as much if not more than "Blindness." It really shows how fragile our systems of society are and just how far the people in ..."

Great to hear you like it, Harry. I have it at home and am planning on reading it soon.


message 19: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Eleanor wrote: "Another great and thought-provoking review Lisa."

Thanks, Eleanor!


message 20: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Kevin wrote: "Wonderful, as ever. Lisa."

Thanks, Kevin!


Michelle Curie One of my favourite books! So glad you enjoyed it and wonderful review!


message 22: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Michelle wrote: "One of my favourite books! So glad you enjoyed it and wonderful review!"

Thank you, Michelle! Happy we share this favourite!


message 23: by Gaurav (new) - added it

Gaurav Wonderful review, Lisa, built around carefully chosen quotes. I read the book last year, but still its harrowing memories are vivid in my mind. To me, it's one of the most profound dystopian novels of modern times.


message 24: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Gaurav wrote: "Wonderful review, Lisa, built around carefully chosen quotes. I read the book last year, but still its harrowing memories are vivid in my mind. To me, it's one of the most profound dystopian novels..."

Thank you, Gaurav. I agree! It is harrowing and brilliant.


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