Posted by : atcampbell | On : February 5, 2002

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Nine people attended this discussion. Blindness is a novel about a plague that causes people to go blind. Doctors can’t determine the physical cause of the blindness or determine how it spreads. The newly blind people are quarantined to try to prevent spread of the disease. Unusually, none of the characters have names or physical descriptions. They’re just referenced by their profession or role in the story (the Doctor, the Girl with Glasses, etc.) Everyone at the meeting had read most or all of the book. None had read anything else by Saramago.

It must be mentioned that our reading of this book was largely due to a review of it by Robert Silverberg in Asimov’s. Silverberg wrote passionately about this book being a great SF novel, and he mentioned that the author had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Upon reading his review, several of us felt that our group had to discuss this book.

Much of our discussion centered on the faceless and nameless characters. Some felt that this was just a pointless literary exercise that only distanced us from the characters. Others thought this anonymity was a deliberate effort not to bind the story to a particular time or culture. As written, this story could have occurred anywhere on Earth in the last 75 years. The most advanced technology mentioned in the book is air travel.

The story largely focuses on the strange society that emerges among the quarantined blind people. We see kindness and great cruelty, and much filth. We felt that this must be a metaphor, but we weren’t sure for what. The Holocaust? AIDS? Reading about people treating each other horribly in a prison camp was not a lot of fun.

One person thought this book was an expressionist masterpiece, comparing favorably to the work of Kafka. Others thought it was a good idea, but that the author did not sustain it well for novel length. We all felt that it worked better as a literary novel than as science fiction. Our favorite character was the dog.

Overall we feel that Blindness is a unique and memorable book. After the meeting we had a nice dinner at Brick Oven Pizza.

–A. T. Campbell, III