Blindness (Portuguese: Ensaio sobre a cegueira, meaning Essay on Blindness) is a 1995 novel by the Portuguese author José Saramago. It is one of Saramago’s most famous novels, along with The Gospel According to Jesus Christ and Baltasar and Blimunda. In 1998, Saramago received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Blindness was one of his works noted by the committee when announcing the award.
A few weeks ago I was in Mexico City when I had run out of reading material. When in a country where English is not the first language, it is often very difficult to find books in English. We went to a bookstore and though the possibilities were a bit limiting, I picked up Blindness by José Saramago. It sucked me in and I finished the novel by the time we left Mexico.
But I almost put the book down after the first few chapters. The English translation was so horrible I wondered if I could make it through. When I figured out that the translator had died midway through the work I realized that what I was reading was not really a finished piece but a draft. The translator was Giovanni Pontiero who passed away. Margaret Jill Costa finished the work. I soon realized that they had seemingly worked backwards and as the novel progressed, the writing got better. The story is so good and captivating, the writing can lean on the narrative.
You can read about the plot in Wikipedia so I will not rehash the story. There are so many angles from which to interpreting and understand this novel and that is what makes it so intriguing – the symbolism of blindness, the fragility of society, the psychology of power, the psychology of interpersonal relationships, violence, the act of forgiveness, the power and responsibilities of those that can see, vengeance. All of these themes and others are somewhere inside this captivating novel.
Of course where you read a book like this you cannot help but imagine it as a movie. After finishing Blindness, I discovered and watched the movie. I had reservations about how would you even make a movie from the novel but was surprised at how good the movie is. It brings together all the important themes and in many ways does not stray too far from the novel. Of course, the movie did not do well at the box office as dystopian nightmares are not what people desire in the theaters these days.
I am not usually one for books that are thrillers and on the macabre side, but Blindness is highly recommended reading. Probably best to start with the book.