Blindness: Book review



Translated by Giovanni PONTIERO

326 pages

Published in 1995
Published in translation in 1999


This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

New Authors 2013 European RC 2013 aroundtheworld2012


rating systemI still need to visit a few countries to complete the 52-countries-reading challenge I started last year. So this time, I went to Portugal, in company of its Nobel Prize winner in literature.

I was totally hooked by the first 2 paragraphs of Blindness, with the description of a common scene, some drivers waiting for the red light to turn green, and a traffic jam when one car does not seem to move, and I was stunned when I discovered the reason why, expressed in 3 simple words.

Then little by little, you discover how a strange case of blindness turns into an epidemic. You meet the first people touched by it, and how they are related. The country and its army decide to use drastic measures to stop the disease, and to do so, they basically intern the sick and the potentially sick in an old unused mental hospital. As no one dares approaching them for fear of catching the disease, the sick are given little food, no comfort, and they have to completely take care of themselves, even in case of death.

The mental hospital becomes a microcosmic image of the world around us, as instincts, passions and vices slowly become very obvious amidst this group of people.

The book raises the question of how we look at the world, at people. Through a particular female character, I won’t tell you what’s special about her of course, the author addresses the issue of honesty, of motives, of self-interest and self-sacrifice. It is also a reflection on violence, and probably also on police states.

The content becomes rather gruesome, but I enjoyed a lot the style of the book, semi-post-modernist: the style is very fluid, with hardly any punctuation apart from comas and periods. There are no quotation marks for instance for dialogues: the dialogues are written in the format of paragraphs, with just comas separating what one person says and what another replies, and a capital letter starting the sentence pronounced by the other person, so sometimes it may seem a bit obscure, unless you enjoy post-modernism as I do.

I loved the descriptions of settings and characters. The author must know blind people himself, seeing how good it at translating their perception of reality.
I also liked how he inserted here and there some thoughts on life and human condition in general.

If you have tried reading some Nobel Prize winners, you may have wondered why on earth they got that special award. This was not the case for me with this book, as his writing is really very interesting. I encourage you to try to read this book.

There’s actually a sequel, called Seeing.  And Blindness has been made into a movie; I’m still debating if I’m going to try to watch it or not, as some scenes may be way too disturbing for me on screen.


“If you can see, look.
If you can look, observe.” From the Book of Exhortations

If we cannot live entirely like humans, at least let us do everything in our power not to live like animals. page 116

Why did we become blind, I don’t know, perhaps one day we’ll find out, Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I thunk we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see. page 326


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. [from Goodreads]



José de Sousa Saramago is 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.



Tony’s Reading List
Fantasy Book Review
Tongue Sophistries



19 thoughts on “Blindness: Book review

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  3. I was getting ready to discover something exciting when I sawyer rating you gave this one since I’ve not read any Portuguese authors. But the lack of punctuation I think would pro be too irritating. Oh we’ll I’m sue I will find someone else to read.


    • have a look at the beginning, it is not devoid of punctuation, maybe I didn’t explain myself clearly enough. you can read the beginning if you go to amazon, and click on ‘look inside’. you can also have amazon send you a free sample of the kindle edition.


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