Funny story: I got this book from the library knowing that there was a book called “Blindness” on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It wasn’t until I was well into the story that I actually checked the list and discovered that the book listed is called Blindness, but it’s by Henry Green. Whoops. But by that point, it was literally impossible for me to stop reading the book, and I had to finish it.
I can’t really put into words why this book was so amazing. Saramago writes wonderfully, and even if he didn’t the premise of the story would be enough to make the book fantastic: an unnamed city where the inhabitants are all infected with “white blindness” that appears to be spread simply by proximity to a victim. The first wave of infected are sent to an abandoned mental hospital to be quarantined, and essentially left there to die. None of the characters have faces or names; we know them as the first blind man, the first blind man’s wife, the girl with the dark glasses, the boy with the squint, the doctor, the thief, the man with the black eyepatch, and the doctor’s wife. Everyone is blind, except the doctor’s wife, who is pretending to be blind to stay with her husband. No one knows what’s happening to them or how to deal with their sudden blindness, and things rapidly go to hell in a handbasket as some of the blind patients take control of the hospital and steal food and supplies from the others. It’s a shattering portrayal of how easily civilized people can be turned into animals, with very little hope or redemption.
And, for some added scandal, apparently the National Federation of the Blind wants Saramago’s head on a platter because of this book, since they think he uses blindness as a metaphor for everything evil in human thought and action and portrayed the blind as violent savages. These people are missing the point.
“Who would have believed it. Seen merely at a glance, the man’s eyes seem healthy, the iris looks bright, luminous, the sclera white, as compact as porcelain. The eyes wide open, the wrinkled skin of the face, his eyebrows suddenly screwed up, all this, as anyone can see, signifies that he is distraught with anguish. With a rapid movement, what was in sight has disappeared behind the man’s clenched fists, as if he were still trying to retain inside his mind the final image captured, a round red light at the traffic lights. I am blind, I am blind, he repeated in despair as they helped him to get out of the car, and the tears welling up made those eyes which he claimed were dead, shine even more.”
Verdict: four out of five stars