BLINDNESS by José Saramago
Kirkus Star

BLINDNESS

KIRKUS REVIEW

The embattled relationships among the people of a city mysteriously struck by an epidemic of blindness form the core of this superb novel by the internationally acclaimed Saramago, the Portugese author of, most recently, The History of the Siege of Lisbon (1997). A driver stalled at a busy intersection suddenly suffers an attack of “white blindness” (no other color, or any shape, is discernible). The “false Samaritan” who helps him home and then steals his car is the next victim. A busy ophthalmologist follows, then two of his patients. And on it goes, until the city’s afflicted blind are “quarantined” in an unused mental ward; the guards ensuring their incarceration panic and begin to shoot; and a paternalistic “Ministry” runs out of strategies to oversee “an uprooted, exhausted world” in a state of escalating chaos. But then, as abruptly as the catastrophe began, everything changes—in a wry denouement suggesting that what we—ve observed (as it were) amounts to an existential test of these characters’ courage and mutual tolerance. But Blindness never feels like a lesson, thanks to Saramago’s mastery of plot, urbane narration (complete with irreverent criticisms of its own digressiveness), and resourceful characterizations. All the people are nameless (“the girl with the dark glasses,” “the boy with the squint”), but we learn an enormous amount about them, and the central figure—the ophthalmologist’s wife, who pretends to be blind in order to accompany her husband—is triumphantly employed as both viewpoint character and (as a stunning final irony confirms) “the leader of the blind.” Echoes of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and images hinting at Holocaust experiences enrich the texture of a brilliant allegory that may be as revolutionary in its own way and time as were, say, The Trial and The Plague in theirs. Another masterpiece.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-15-100251-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1998




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