July 31, 2007

Jose Saramago's "Blindness" - An Eye-Opener?


What happens when a group of idividuals suddenly go blind, and that is just the beginning of the problem; this 'white blindness' is extremely contagious, and within days there are hundreds more who get infected by it! Those in power, take desperate measures to contain this epidemic; alas, it's only a matter of time before the entire city and perhaps a whole country is under seige in Portugese writer Jose Saramago's novel 'Blindness'.

Jose Saramago is a Nobel Laureate, the first ever from Portugal, who received attention in the USA only after he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. However, he's recognized as one of the greatest literary voices writing out of Europe today. 'Blindness' was originally written in Portugese and translated into English by Giovanni Pontiero. The setting of the novel is unknown; it could be just any city, in any country in the second half of the twentieth century, and this is perhaps what lends universality to any underlying theme that Saramago may have had in mind. Many readers and critics have drawn parrallels between this novel and Camus 'The Plague'; both deal with an epidemic that afflicts an area, and how the residents thereafter cope with their changed circumstances. However, Saramago's depiction of the epidemic has a poignance and depth that brings home the horror and the helplessness of the victims in a way that Camus plague doesn't. The 'white blindness' drags in the reader, feet and soul, into it's bog like claustrophobia. The squalor, the stench, the shit-laden corridors are as real for the reader as they are for the blinded who are living those conditions.

In addition to the realism of Saramago, it is also his writing style that makes him so unique. There is absolute fluidity so far as the construction of the novel is concerned. There are no quotation marks or paragraph indentations to prepare the reader for dialogues. At the outset the reader is clouded in a maze of sentences trying to figure out dialogues from narrative. This possibly was a perfect fit for the metaphor of "Blindness' that Saramago may have had in mind; all boundaries and distinctions, be they those of sight or of language, were to be fading and mingling into one another. The lack of clarity may have been a purposeful ploy of this master writer. Just as the onset of blindness caused individuals to seek solace and meaning in the collective, so would the uniformity of the language structure force the reader to find his own meaning to this novel set in an undefined location. To quote Preto- Rodas on Saramago's extraordinary style, "Gone are the usual distinctions involving narrative, description, and dialogue. . . . The result . . . is unsettling as the reader opens to pages filled with lines of unbroken print. One may even lose one's way in the absence of capital letters, punctuation marks, and paragraph indentation."

There is so much a reader can make of this novel that it could fill up pages; there are a string of questions that one would like to ask of Saramago to figure out what he intended the novel to convey. It is credit to his craftsmanship that these unanswered questions only serve to enhance reader interest and to make 'Blindness' a gripping read. There are several profound lines in the novel that the reader often interprets as the author's voice surfacing, but alas, Saramago gives no definitive or qualifying narrative that could pin him down. He simply provides a vision into a world descending into anarchy due to an inexplicable physical epidemic, and where a small group of people coping with this changed situation.

It's noteworthy that Saramago begins this novel with an epigram to blindness that reads :
"If you can see, look. If you can look, observe".

However, 'see', 'look', or 'observe'; read it you must! A classic no doubt!

21 comments:

Sanjay said...

Iditis. Thank you for your review, very well written. Incidentally I am also reading this book currently. You have succintly captured the essence of the book.

You said..
There are no quotation marks or paragraph indentations to prepare the reader for dialogues. At the outset the reader is clouded in a maze of sentences trying to figure out dialogues from narrative. This possibly was a perfect fit for the metaphor of "Blindness' that Saramago may have had in mind; all boundaries and distinctions, be they those of sight or of language, were to be fading and mingling into one another.The lack of clarity may have been a purposeful ploy of this master writer
Having read Saramago's "All the Names" I have to say that what you say may simply be his writing style and not something specific to Blindness.
He has similarly constructed lines and paragraphs in "All the names" which does not evoke a sense of paranoia or a sense of living in a state of impending or constant doom that Blindness does.

I also liked your review of "Turtles Can Fly" and have rented it from our public library and hope to watch it soon.

Thanks

Lotus Reads said...

Wonderful review, Id! I have had a copy of "Blindness" sitting on my bookshelf for the longest time but every time I take it down to leaf through the pages, I am put off by the solid text, in other words, my eyes get tired of seeing such long paragraphs with hardly any punctuation save for commas. I know someone who got around that by picking a chunk of text to read and then, using a piece of paper she would cover the rest of the text so that she could focus on what she was reading :)

This is such a powerful work of literature however, so whether I enjoy Saramago's writing style or not, I am going to have to delve into this novel.

BTW, "Blindness" will soon be coming to a screen near you, shooting began in Toronto about a week ago.

D said...

I absolutely adore Camu....Blindness is now another must read on my list. In fact I now have an xcel sheet where I write the name of these books. The review of 'turtles can fly' was great. Reminds me of several discovery documentaries and a verse from Rumi..
"don't go to sleep
this night
one night is worth
a hundred thousand souls"

Id it is said...

sanjay,
Can't wait to hear your take after finishing 'Blindness'!
Thanks for the heads up on "All the Names"; it's amazing that that's his writing style regardless of the subject he chooses to explore; sheer genius!
After watching the movie let me know whether you believe turtles can fly?

Id it is said...

lotus reads,
A movie! Let's see what comes of that. Thanks for sharing.

No doubt, the writing style of Saramago is quite the challenge, but after a few chapters it ceases to bother.

txandi said...

superb review. you influence my reading. thank you.

on a whim, i read hari kunzru's transmission. if read, thoughts? if not, i look forward to your review.~t~

eshuneutics said...

You seem to be flying through books. That is a good use of freedom. I do like your review, the caring...and the caustic! Keep reading.

AVIANA said...

HI,

Thanks for the review! it seems like a great read....however i started to think of the "blindness' as a metaphor of many things. it could be a metaphor for today like the use of fear as a tactic to gain support for war, or the eventual lost of privacy i.e. surveillance cameras on every corner...(check the news, i think yahoo on this)...

anyhow, thanks for stopping by with your thoughts! have a nice weekend...

:)

Khakra said...

i love metaphors. takes an expert like saramago to interpret them. but the prospect of reading this book scares me in a way, thinking outside the box been's known to be my bugaboo....

lash said...

plague is a favorite. nicely written post. thanks for this review, this book seems to be really interesting.

A friend is gifting me 'turtles can fly'. I am yet to receive it though, but i am excited abt that too..

How do we know said...

hey thanks.. i was looking for a gud book to read at the moment..

Khakra said...

oi, and forgot to mention. colin thubron's travelog "shadow of the silk road" is worth a read. a friend, who's a pretty impatient reader, got bored, but i found it fascinating. you might the end rather fascinating, though you may know most of it already. take it as a different perspective of culture. in fact you may have already read the book. not worth revealing anything here!

EXSENO said...

I always love your book reviews, but this one really makes me want to read this book. It appears that it would be a fascinating read.

Nattaya :) said...

Id it is,
Great review. I'm inspired for some reasons. I don't know.

Nattaya :) said...

Id it is,
You may have forgotten me already. Well, so sorry to have taken a long time to leave you a comment here.

Well, i read a bit.

"...but none of us, lamps, dogs or humans, knows at the outset, why we have come into this world."

Reading this Jose Saramago's "Blindness" is not always enjoyable, but it's so well written and so literary, that it attains a "classic" that few books reach.

By the way, can you visit and share me your answer about your opinion of :

"Would you like to know how and when you will die or not?"

anyone here too
explain me why/why not :)

Thanks

pRicky said...

I just finished Namesake.
Whatever people might say I am a huge fan.
Blindness...
lets see if I can get a copy of it...

Raza Rumi said...

Id, this is a thoughtful review. I will have to read the book now. One of the Pakistani (Urdu) writers had mentioned this book and how the style inspired him. I plan to send him a print out of your piece.

starry nights said...

Thank you Id for the wonderful review.I have to read it .

samrina said...

Nice review i would definitely go for this book. Thanks for sahring.

Take care

bereweber said...

reading Saramago's Blindness, is a life changing experience... not just the knowledge of human soul that he describes, but i found incredible the cadence and the rhythm of his prose, it matches perfectly the situations, the dialogs without punctuations are somehow even more understandable, and make of the whole novel one powerful long poem... life changing indeed! a must-read, and yes a classic

also by Saramago i recommend an earlier novel, The Double

EYE said...

It's a book I started but was too scared to finish.