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A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

Thoughts and reflections on works of fiction and literature. Pondering of life through pictures and words. Babbling about gay rights. Travelogues and anecdotes.

  • [1] Annie Proulx: Brokeback Mountain
  • [2] Arthur Golden: Memoirs of a Geisha
  • [3] Yu Hua: To Live
  • [4] Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty
  • [5] Colm Toibin: The Master
  • [6] Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Shadow of the Wind
  • [7] William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience
  • [8] Charles Higham: The Civilization of Angkor
  • [9] Graham Greene: A Burnt-Out Case
  • [10] Dai Sijie: Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch
  • [11] Alan Hollinghurst: The Swimming-Pool Library
  • [12] Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita
  • [13] Colm Toibin: The Blackwater Lightship
  • [14] Alan Hollinghurst: The Folding Star
  • [15] Ross King: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
  • [16] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov
  • [17] Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections
  • [18] Colm Toibin: The Story of the Night
  • [19] John Banville: Shroud
  • [20] Leo Tolstoy: Resurrection
  • [21] Peter Hessler: River Town, Two Years on the Yangtze
  • [22] Ian McEwan: The Atonement
  • [24] Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera
  • [25] Ignacio Padilla: Shadow without a Name
  • [26] Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose
  • [27] Richard Russo: Straight Man
  • [28] Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground
  • [29] Alan Hollinghurst: The Spell
  • [30] Hermann Broch: The Death of Virgil
  • [31] James Baldwin: Giovanni's Room
  • [32] Ken Kesey: One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • [33] Xingjian Gao: One Man's Bible
  • [34] C. Jay Cox: Latter Days
  • [35] Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird
  • [36] William Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew
  • [37] Daniel A. Helminiak: What The Bible Really Says about Homosexuality
  • [38] James Baldwin: Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone
  • [39] Kenji Yoshino: Covering - The Hidden Assault of Civil Rights
  • [40] Italo Calvino: If, On a Winter's Night A Traveler
  • [41] Arthur Phillips: The Egyptologist
  • [42] George Orwell: 1984
  • [43] Michael Warner: The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and Ethics of Queer Life
  • [44] Andrew Sullivan: Virtually Normal
  • [45] Henry James: The Wings of the Dove
  • [46] Jose Saramago: Blindness
  • [47] Umberto Eco: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
  • [48] Dan Brown: Da Vinci Code
  • [49] Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go
  • [50] Ken Follett: The Pillars of Earth
  • [51] Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
  • [52] Michael Thomas Ford: Alec Baldwin Doesn't Like Me
  • [53] Jonathan Franzen: How To Be Alone
  • [54] Jonathan Lethem: The Fortress of Solitude
  • [55] Matthew Pearl: The Dante Club
  • [56] Zadie Smith: White Teeth
  • [57] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Double
  • [58] Jose Saramago: The Double
  • [59] Andrew Holleran: Dancer from the Dance
  • [60] Heinrich von Kleist: The Marquise of O & Other Stories
  • [61] Andrew Holleran: In September, the Light Changes
  • [62] Tom Perrotta: Little Children
  • June 06, 2006

     

    [46] Blindness - Jose Saramago

    Blindness is Jose Saramago's compelling novel of humanity under siege. White blindness created mayhem that relentlessly befalls the entire city and its inhabitants within just a matter of hours. In a bustling intersection, a man sitting in his car waiting for the lights suddenly turns blind-a sea of impermeable and luminous milkiness instead of the plunging darkness one usually expects. A "Good Samaritan" pedestrian offers to park his car for him (and steals it later) and takes him home. The thief then receives his comeuppance and is struck blind. The wife of the first blind man takes him to the ophthalmologist on a cab. Within a day, the cab driver, the ophthalmologist, the patients at the eye clinic and those whom the first blind man comes in contact with turn blind.

    The government responds to this unprecedented outbreak by sending the blind to a desolated mental asylum for quarantine. Under stern surveillance of soldiers, the internees have to abide by the regulations that push them to the edge of humanity-bury the dead among them, maintain strict isolation from the soldiers who bring in food thrice a say, remain indoor as any attempt to escape or any sign of a seditious movement will result in death. The ophthalmologist's wife seems to be the only one who has not succumbed to blindness. She becomes the eye of those who lost their eyesight. She becomes the one in whom the inmates find solace, comfort and encouragement that spur them on to living in the midst of great distress, pain, and anguish.

    The book gets very difficult emotionally (in fact disturbing) as the mental asylum gets overcrowded and soldiers, who are seized by this formidable terror, overreacted and started opening fire at the inmates. While the army regrets having been forced to repress with weapons, the soldiers know that the commander seek to resolve the outbreak by physically wiping out the lot of the inmates. And the army has the effrontery to proclaim firing as an act for which the army is neither directly nor indirectly to blame. As food rations come sporadically and becomes meager, a group of blind hoodlums rob their fellow inmates of valuables in exchange for food.

    At one point I am retching and completely grossed out. The quarantine system irreversibly deteriorates and collapses with it the hygiene and medications needed to treat diseases (as some inmates are stricken by influenza). Toilets clog and back-flush. Excrements pile and lay strewn on hallways. Smelling the fetid smell that comes from the lavatories in gusts makes the doctor's wife want to throw up. Her courage, which before has been so resolute, begins to crumble.

    The novel cunningly and candidly exposes how frail human society can be. The entire banking system collapses, the traffic thwarted, the streets are strewn with corpses, the dogs tear off flesh from corpses... I put down the book and ask myself: how could human dignity be debased as such? Isn't it true that dignity has no price and life loses all meaning when one starts to make small concessions? Yet it sheds a ray of hope that one person's perseverance can make a difference.

    Readers will find nameless characters in this novel (the first blind man, the first blind man's wife, the doctor, the doctor's wife, the thief, the girl with dark glasses, the boy with a squint, the old man with a black eye patch). The notion of name is not important in the book as the characters succumb to their blindness. All that remains are the voices and the memories of the past with which each person makes of his identity. I have to say that even they are nameless, they are not compromised in their depiction but are very etched and real characters. I think blindness forces the characters to come in grip with their fear, weakness, shame and demons that enslave them before they are stripped of eyesight.

    Those who are not familiar with Jose Saramago's style might wish to practice a little patience with his embedded paragraphs and dialogues that are stripped of any punctuation marks. The prose can go on for pages without a break. In spite of the somehow difficult format, it constructs a sense of panic and tension as one read. It is for the very reason that this book is neither a quick read nor a page-turner. On a surface level, Blindness is a compelling tale of an unprecedented outbreak. In the core of the book stores a candid, relentless, but transcendental quintessence of humanity.

    9 Comments:

    Anonymous Danielle said...

    Everyone seems to be reading Saramago these days. I am going to have to find something by him at the bookstore. I am not sure I will start with this one--it sounds pretty heavy duty. But then maybe all his work is like this?

    6/06/2006 10:00 AM  
    Blogger Greg said...

    It's a darkly beautiful novel that I try to tell everyone to read, and it's one of my favorite reads. I hope soon to purchase the sequel, Seeing, which revolves around many of the same characters.

    6/06/2006 1:01 PM  
    Blogger mingerspice said...

    I've been wanting to read this for a while. I think your review cinched it. I'm getting a copy of this book when I get back to SF.

    BTW: Have you read Camus' The Plague? It'll probably seem tame (even utopian!) by comparison, but it's another great novel about civilization crumbling under quarantine.

    7/23/2006 12:42 AM  
    Blogger Matt said...

    Mingerspice,
    You're really digging my reviews :)
    I read The Plague when I was an undergrad. Guess what, it's funny you make the connection to Saramago because it reminded me of The Plague when I was reading Blindness.

    It's about time to re-read Blindness. I read it in 2000 after my mother passed away...I was feeding myself books to sober up. It was not until recently did I get to write about it.

    7/23/2006 6:30 AM  
    Blogger Matt said...

    Mingerspice,
    You're really digging my reviews :)
    I read The Plague when I was an undergrad. Guess what, it's funny you make the connection to Saramago because it reminded me of The Plague when I was reading Blindness.

    It's about time to re-read Blindness. I read it in 2000 after my mother passed away...I was feeding myself books to sober up. It was not until recently did I get to write about it.

    7/23/2006 6:37 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Saramago has this dirty way of pulling the reader in to his novels so well, only to drop an end upon them. I feel like he's as much amused with the feeling of unfufillment he leaves the reader with at the end, as with the way he captures them throughout.

    10/01/2006 7:19 PM  
    Anonymous Joy said...

    I couldn't stop thinking about this book the first time I read it in late 2004. I have re-read it again in the last two months. I have recommended it a number of times to people who enjoy reading (and to a Red Cross staff person for perspective on "big disasters"). I have read a few of Saramago's other books, but still this is my favorite. I haven't yet read the sequal - didn't know it existed - but will look for it now.

    10/24/2006 5:48 PM  
    Blogger Cyrus Roxas said...

    The Godlight Theatre Company is producing Blindness in New York. Adapted and Directed by Joe Tantalo.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucf_uC4V2IQ

    2/02/2007 1:32 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I guess I must be the contrarian here. Other than the writing style (lack of punctuation), there is very little original in this book. These ideas have been discussed many, many times before. I was expecting some new insight into the human condition. Especially from an author of such great repute. I was very disappointed.

    3/01/2007 9:16 AM  

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