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“Blindness” by José Saramago

Malcolm Streitfeld

Anchor Staff Writer

Photo by Isabella Santoro

How much can we trust our eyes? Is what’s right in front of us real, or just a clever mirage created by the tomfoolery of the enigmatic human brain? If we can’t ever tell for certain that the images blossoming into being before our pupils are accurate to life, then is there anything we can rely on to reveal the truth of the world in all its splendor?

All of these questions and more came to mind as I read through José Saramago’s Nobel-Prize winning book “Blindness.” It is an alarm bell that still rings true years long after it was first published in Portuguese in 1995 and then published in English in 1997, speaking to how oftentimes we confidently believe we can see clearly, to the point that we forget how blind we really are.

“Blindness” begins deceptively simple before unveiling layers upon layers of intrigue. It concerns an unnamed community struck by a sudden epidemic. Countless citizens are rendered blind every minute, which baffles scientists, as there’s nothing wrong with these peoples eyes aside from the aforementioned lack of sight. It’s speculated that someone can be infected by just looking at a blind city-dweller. An urgent crisis soon ensues, with the blind being rounded up and quarantined inside an empty mental hospital. The military stations itself at every entrance, ensuring that nobody can leave. A delicate peace is soon established inside the sanatorium, though this stability is about to be stressed to its limits.

I don’t usually mention the formatting of text in my book reviews, I think it's worth mentioning here. Intriguingly, Saramago uses lots of run-on sentences spaced out by at least three commas. The sentences are grouped very close together. Oftentimes during conversations between multiple characters, Saramago doesn’t enclose his dialogue inside quotation marks and even evades specifying who’s saying what.

All of this is done not only to make the reader’s eyes wander, but also to make them feel as blind and disoriented as the characters. It also keeps the story going at a fervent pace, only allowing brief moments for the reader to catch their breath. This is Saramago’s literary genius at work.

The typical sort of blindness is certainly significant in this novel, though I don’t think it's the only interpretation of what the title is referring to. Saramago’s novel is one that hits you hard emotionally every few sentences. It is a poignant masterpiece of the post-apocalyptic genre that speaks to the willing blindness society chooses to subject itself to, instead of addressing the horrifying problems that plague their world daily. It is easier to go on seeing the world as a wonderful utopia, rather than waking up and facing the music.

I must stress that this book is not for the faint of heart. It pulls back the curtain of urbanization to reveal both the best and the worst that humanity has to offer. Everything warm and kind about our species that we’ve lost touch with, as well as everything terrifying that we’ve done our best to forget, is on display here. By the end of this story, I was nearly in tears. I won't spoil anything, but I will say that making it to the end of this harrowing journey is well worth the effort. Saramago is a more tender and heartwarming writer than one might expect at first glance.

So if you’re willing to read a book that will make you shed tears of both joy and sorrow, then pick up this book as soon as possible. By the end of it, you’ll be able to see at long last.


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