Cannonball Read IV: Book #27/52
Cannonball Read IV: Book #27/52
I was in Portland on business and heard that one of Portland’s treasures is Powell’s books. So I checked it out. If you haven’t been there or heard of it, Powell’s is a new and used bookstore that literally takes up an entire city block. Each room has a genre, labeled by a certain color (Want a mystery book? Head to the gold room. Children’s? That’s rose). There’s also the rare book room, whose hours, if you’re only visiting for a few days, seem just as rare as the books inside. And there are other little treasures hidden within as well. If you want to take a book and read for awhile, you’re welcome to go to the coffee shop and relax. And I discovered my new favorite book “Go the Fuck to Sleep.” (If you are one of the last people, like me, to hear about this little treasure, I’ll review it next.)
I say all that to say this…there was a Nobel Prize section that featured several books by Portuguese author Jose Saramago. I had read his book, Death with Interruptions, last year, and selected it as one of my top five. So I was excited to see what else I could pick up. I saw what appeared to be several histories, like The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and The History of the Siege of Lisbon. I figured Saramago had a boring side to him, but I should have known better. Apparently the former is a highly controversial book about the fictional retelling of the life of Jesus. It won him critical acclaim but also instant disapproval with the Roman Catholic Church (among others). But hey, cut the guy some slack. How many atheists do you know that would even give JC another thought?
And the latter is a book about “Raimundo Silva, assigned to correct a book entitled The History of the Siege of Lisbon by his publishing house. Silva decides to alter the meaning of a crucial sentence by inserting the word ‘not’ in the text, so that the book now claims that the Crusaders did not come to the aid of the Portuguese king in taking Lisbon from the Moors.” (thank you wikipedia).
What I like about Saramago is his out of the box, creative, and some would say, dangerous thinking. Each one of his books has some strange twist. If you really want to dig deep, you can talk about modern parables and allegories and whatever other literary devices people who KNOW throw out. But it’s simple for me. He’s interesting. You just have to get past his style…
Saramago has a thing about punctuation, especially commas and quotation marks. His characters engage in dialogue, but besides using a capital letter with each new speaker, he doesn’t differentiate between speakers. He also writes from a third person, narrative perspective. So I feel disconnected from the characters. But I have to say this book was loads easier to read than Death with Interruptions. I don’t think that’s because it’s actually written in an easier to read style, it’s because you can get used to Saramago’s style. And it was easier for my mind to adjust, having been conditioned by his first novel. I guess.
So on to the actual review…Blindness is about a country that is struck with a mysterious disease, only described as the white blindness, where (surprise surprise) people are instantly and seemingly randomly struck blind. Saramago begins with patient zero and those who shortly follow. The government decides to quarantine the blind and those who have been exposed to the blind. The first half of the book is about the quarantine. At first dozens, and then hundreds of people occupy a hospital, which is guarded by the military. Unable to organize, and with no one to guide them, the living conditions in the hospital degrade exponentially. To make matters worse, a group of internees withhold food from the rest of the wards. It’s almost like Lord of the Flies meets World War Z.
SLIGHT SPOILER AHEAD…
The second half of the book involves the release of the quarantined after the sickness strikes the entire country. Here’s where comparisons to a zombie apocalypse really become evident. Saramago follows a small group from the hospital as they try to survive, looking for food, housing, and their families.
It took me awhile to get into the book, probably because I was stumbling through it at first. But as I got used to the writing style, and the story developed, I became more interested.
In comparison to Death with Interruptions, I felt Blindness was a heavier book. Death with Interruptions, despite the subject matter, had a playful, light feel to it. Blindness, on the other hand, had a couple of disturbing scenes and emphasized the worst in humanity during the quarantine. But that’s part of what makes the book interesting. And without telling you the title of the next book (possible spoiler as well)…there is a short snippet from Saramago’s sequel to Blindness at the end.
So a solid recommend if you’re up to the challenge!
Check out The Blist to read more reviews by genericwhitegirl
A man is sitting at a traffic light one day waiting for the light to turn green and he suddenly goes blind. ” Distraught, he is accompanied to his home by a kindly stranger. But this Good Samaritan is also a car thief. Having taken the blind man home, he steals his car. A short time later he is blind. The first blind man’s wife takes him to an ophthalmologist, ushering him past all the other patients in the waiting room. He tells him the blindness is not dark but a brilliant, impenetrable white. The ophthalmologist cannot find anything wrong with the man’s eyes- except that he is blind.
Puzzled, the doctor goes home and sits up late with his medical textbooks. The last thing he sees is the back of his hands before he too is blind. The first blind man, the thief, the doctor. Later come the girl with dark glasses, the boy with the squint, the old man. Nobody has a name in ”Blindness.” there are no proper names of any kind. The city in which this catastrophic epidemic of blindness breaks out is never identified although there are hints that it is a Spanish-speaking city (the doctor’s wife uses tu instead of usted to address the girl with the dark glasses). There are no street names. This could happen anywhere.
Panicked, the government rounds up the first people inflicted with this strange blindness and quarantine them in an abandoned mental hospital–guarded by soldiers with orders to shoot anyone who tries to escape. The asylum becomes more concentration camp than hospital. Among the military are those who believe it would be simpler to liquidate all the afflicted. Among the first internees are the doctor and his wife. The wife has lied in order to stay with her husband. She too, she claims, has the white blindness, though in fact she is the only one to retain her sight. Why she is spared is not explained.
As the numbers of the blind increase, conditions in the hospital deteriorate: toilets back up, food deliveries become sporadic; there is no medical treatment for the sick and no proper way to bury the dead. Inevitably, one group of blind men take control of the dwindling food supply in order to exploit the others and the hospital descends into Lord of the Flies-esque madness. New inmates bring reports of the epidemic’s spread in the outside world: there are multiple traffic accidents; airliners plunge from the sky when their pilots are blinded. In time life at the hospital degenerates into a Hobbesian struggle for power and survival. Saramago takes his characters to the very edge of humanity and then pushes them over the precipice. His people learn to live in inexpressible filth; they commit acts of both unspeakable violence and amazing generosity that would have been unimaginable to them before the tragedy. The very structure of society itself alters to suit the circumstances as once-civilized, urban dwellers become ragged nomads traveling by touch from building to building in search of food. Those who go blind in the streets can never find their homes again. People are reduced to eating chickens raw and packs of dogs roam the excrement-covered sidewalks scavenging from corpses.
“Blindness” is one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read because the society’s slow descent into chaos seems all too plausible. Beautifully written, I would recommend it to anyone.