Blindness: Book review

Blindness

by

José SARAMAGO
Translated by Giovanni PONTIERO

326 pages

Published in 1995
Published in translation in 1999

blindness

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

New Authors 2013 European RC 2013 aroundtheworld2012

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

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.

QUOTATIONS

Epigraph:
“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

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

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]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

saramago

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.

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REVIEWS BY OTHER BOOK BLOGGERS

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PORTUGUESE AUTHOR?
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Book review: Flesh And Grass

Flesh And Grass

by

Libby CONE

168 e-pages

Published by Smashwords in 2010

Ebook received from the author
via Smashwords

Flesh And Grass

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

   hf-reading-challenge-2013 New Authors 2013

where are you reading

50 states – #1: Delaware

  2013 Ebook Challenge

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

Rating system

Last year, I launched into a world tour through books (I read 40 out of 52 books each in a different country), which I plan to finish this year. As it was a wonderful experience, I decided to travel through every state of the US this year, following the official order of their date of statehood.

State #1 is Delaware. Things started tough, as there are not that many novels set in Delaware, apart from romance novels I have to desire to read, and even less in my public library. I finally stumbled upon Libby Cone, a Goodreads author, who graciously accepted to send me her ebook set in that state!

Once the author had finished her manuscript, new historical data surfaced, and she discovered that information she used turned out not to be true. So she does not officially calls her book a historical novel. Hmm, I wish all historical novel writers had the same honesty…

Based on some historical facts, but loosely used here according to the author, Flesh And Grass retells the story of one of the first Dutch colonies in the 17th century, first as they prepare, launch on their trip and settle on our shores. It is described through the description of Cornelis, a young blind boy, member of that Mennonite community.

I liked all the descriptions related to their way of living, of eating, cooking (they roasted herons on the spit!! – p.49; their “sheep’s milk cheese was colored green by the boiled sheep’s excrement” !!!- p.88), etc., and how their community was organized, under the leadership of a tough man, who reminded me of the missionary dad in The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbra Kingsolver – this is not someone you would want to emulate.

I had no idea how tough life got for these first colonies. This was a real discovery for me: and of course their problems did not come mostly from their encounters with the natives, this went rather well, but with other Europeans, and with jurisdiction laws and decisions taken thousands of miles away. Talk about battle for power and turf…

The small colony was burned down twice and had to restart from scratch. At the end of the book, Cornelis moves further inland, in the hope for better protection.

Cornelis is blind, so his descriptions are focused a lot on what he smells. As we are at the time of major business with sheep and spices, that works! Cornelis contributes to the community by knitting and selling stockings.

The author decided to try to convey her story in the way the characters would have spoken at the time in English. I trust she did a good research on that, I don’t have time to check, but I have to say it took me a while to feel accustomed to the awkward phrases in dialogues, for instance: “What think you?” p.19

There’s no real plot, it is more the day to day life in all its grittiness. So if you are looking for a very adventurous exciting book, pass on this one. On the other hand, if you like terra incognita, something new and different, on early American history, you should definitely give it a shot.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

Seventeenth-century Holland is a major power with a large, wealthy middle class built on spices and slavery. Dutch schemes to colonize the New World attract few interested parties, but Pieter Cornelissoon Boom, an early Mennonite with a dream of communal living, brings a few families to Delaware Bay in 1663. Their “Little Common-wealth” is just getting started when the bloody economic rivalry between Holland and England unleashes violence on the coast of Delaware. The Nieuw Netherland colonies swing between Dutch and English ownership in a series of Anglo-Dutch wars. Cornelis, Boom’s blind son, tells the story of the community (based loosely on the ill-fated Delaware settlement of Pieter Plockhoy) in its various forms of existence, relying on his exquisite memory of scent. [Goodreads]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Libby Cone

I am a radiologist who was bored with work, and embarked on a ten-year odyssey to get an MA in Jewish Studies. This led to my reinvention of myself as a writer.
My first novel, War on the Margins, is about the Holocaust playing out in microcosm on the tiny Channel Island of Jersey, which was occupied by German soldiers and Nazi functionaries for the duration of World War II.

My second book, Flesh and Grass, is about a blind kid growing up in colonial Delaware. He is the son of the founder of a short-lived Dutch utopian settlement that was adversely affected by the conflicts between Holland and Britain. It is loosely based on the ill-fated Swanendael settlement of Pieter Plockhoy. The son’s memories are primarily olfactory due to his extraordinary sense of smell. Like my first book, Flesh and Grass examines the ephemerality of official identity.
I live in Philadelphia with my husband and many pets. When I am not writing or reading CT scans, I review books for The New Podler Review of Books.

OTHER REVIEWS

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NOVEL ON DELAWARE?

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