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Original Essays | August 21, 2014

Richard Bausch: IMG Why Literature Can Save Us

Our title is, of course, a problem. "Why Literature Can Save Us." And of course the problem is one of definition: what those words mean. What is... Continue »
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Blindness Cover

ISBN13: 9780156007757
ISBN10: 0156007754
Condition: Standard
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InBlindness,a city is overcome by an epidemic of blindness that spares only one woman. She becomes a guide for a group of seven strangers and serves as the eyes and ears for the reader in this profound parable of loss and disorientation. We return to the city years later in SaramagosSeeing,a satirical commentary on government in general and democracy in particular. Together here for the first time, this beautiful edition will be a welcome addition to the library of any Saramago fan.


The amber light came on. Two of the cars ahead accelerated

before the red light appeared. At the pedestrian

crossing the sign of a green man lit up. The people who were

waiting began to cross the road, stepping on the white stripes

painted on the black surface of the asphalt, there is nothing

less like a zebra, however, that is what it is called. The motorists

kept an impatient foot on the clutch, leaving their cars at

the ready, advancing, retreating like nervous horses that can

sense the whiplash about to be inflicted. The pedestrians have

just finished crossing but the sign allowing the cars to go will

be delayed for some seconds, some people maintain that this

delay, while apparently so insignificant, has only to be multiplied

by the thousands of traffic lights that exist in the city and

by the successive changes of their three colours to produce one

of the most serious causes of traffic jams or bottlenecks, to use

the more current term.

     The green light came on at last, the cars moved offbriskly,

but then it became clear that not all of them were equally quick

offthe mark. The car at the head of the middle lane has stopped,

there must be some mechanical fault, a loose accelerator pedal, a

gear lever that has stuck, problem with the suspension, jammed

brakes, breakdown in the electric circuit, unless he has simply

run out of gas, it would not be the first time such a thing has

happened. The next group of pedestrians to gather at the crossing

see the driver of the stationary car wave his arms behind the

windshield, while the cars behind him frantically sound their

horns. Some drivers have already got out of their cars, prepared

to push the stranded vehicle to a spot where it will not hold up

the traffic, they beat furiously on the closed windows, the man

inside turns his head in their direction, first to one side then the

other, he is clearly shouting something, to judge by the movements

of his mouth he appears to be repeating some words, not

one word but three, as turns out to be the case when someone

finally manages to open the door, I am blind.

     Who would have believed it. Seen merely at a glance, the

mans 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 mans 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. These things happen, it will pass youll

see, sometimes its nerves, said a woman. The lights had already

changed again, some inquisitive passersby had gathered around

the group, and the drivers further back who did not know what

was going on, protested at what they thought was some common

accident, a smashed headlight, a dented fender, nothing

to justify this upheaval, Call the police, they shouted and get

that old wreck out of the way. The blind man pleaded, Please,

will someone take me home. The woman who had suggested a

case of nerves was of the opinion that an ambulance should be

summoned to transport the poor man to the hospital, but the

blind man refused to hear of it, quite unnecessary, all he wanted

was that someone might accompany him to the entrance of the

building where he lived. Its close by and you could do me no

greater favour. And what about the car, asked someone. Another

voice replied, The key is in the ignition, drive the car onto the

pavement. No need, intervened a third voice, Ill take charge of

the car and accompany this man home. There were murmurs

of approval. The blind man felt himself being taken by the arm,

Come, come with me, the same voice was saying to him. They

eased him into the front passenger seat, and secured the safety

belt. I cant see, I cant see, he murmured, still weeping. Tell

me where you live, the man asked him. Through the car windows

voracious faces spied, avid for some news. The blind man

raised his hands to his eyes and gestured, Nothing, its as if I

were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea. But blindness

isnt like that, said the other fellow, they say that blindness

is black, Well I see everything white, That little woman

was probably right, it could be a matter of nerves, nerves are

the very devil, No need to talk to me about it, its a disaster,

yes a disaster, Tell me where you live please, and at the same

time the engine started up. Faltering, as if his lack of sight had

weakened his memory, the blind man gave his address, then he

said, I have no words to thank you, and the other replied, Now

then, dont give it another thought, today its your turn, tomorrow

it will be mine, we never know what might lie in store for

us, Youre right, who would have thought, when I left the house

this morning, that something as dreadful as this was about to

happen. He was puzzled that they should still be at a standstill,

Why arent we moving, he asked, The light is on red, replied

the other. From now on he would no longer know when the

light was red.

     As the blind man had said, his home was nearby. But the

pavements were crammed with vehicles, they could not find a

space to park and were obliged to look for a spot in one of the

side streets. There, because of the narrowness of the pavement,

the door on the passengers side would have been little more

than a hands-breadth from the wall, so in order to avoid the

discomfort of dragging himself from one seat to the other with

the brake and steering wheel in the way, the blind man had to

get out before the car was parked. Abandoned in the middle of

the road, feeling the ground shifting under his feet, he tried to

suppress the sense of panic that welled up inside him. He waved

his hands in front of his face, nervously, as if he were swimming

in what he had described as a milky sea, but his mouth

was already opening to let out a cry for help when at the last

minute he felt the others hand gently touch him on the arm,

Calm down, Ive got you. They proceeded very slowly, afraid

of falling, the blind man dragged his feet, but this caused him

to stumble on the uneven pavement, Be patient, were almost

there, the other murmured, and a little further ahead, he asked,

Is there anyone at home to look after you, and the blind man

replied, I dont know, my wife wont be back from work yet, today

it so happened that I left earlier only to have this hit me.

Youll see, it isnt anything serious, Ive never heard of anyone

suddenly going blind, And to think I used to boast that I didnt

even need glasses, Well it just goes to show. They had arrived at

the entrance to the building, two women from the neighbourhood

looked on inquisitively at the sight of their neighbour being

led by the arm but neither of them thought of asking, Have

you got something in your eye, it never occurred to them nor

would he have been able to reply, Yes, a milky sea. Once inside

the building, the blind man said, Many thanks, Im sorry for all

the trouble Ive caused you, I can manage on my own now, No

need to apologise, Ill come up with you, I wouldnt be easy in

my mind if I were to leave you here. They got into the narrow

elevator with some difficulty, What floor do you live on, On

the third, you cannot imagine how grateful I am, Dont thank

me, today its you, Yes, youre right, tomorrow it might be you.

The elevator came to a halt, they stepped out onto the landing,

Would you like me to help you open the door, Thanks, thats

something I think I can do for myself. He took from his pocket

a small bunch of keys, felt them one by one along the serrated

edge, and said, It must be this one, and feeling for the keyhole

with the fingertips of his left hand, he tried to open the door.

It isnt this one, Let me have a look, Ill help you. The door

opened at the third attempt. Then the blind man called inside,

Are you there, no one replied, and he remarked, Just as I

was saying, she still hasnt come back. Stretching out his hands,

he groped his way along the corridor, then he came back cautiously,

turning his head in the direction where he calculated

the other fellow would be, How can I thank you, he said, It was

the least I could do, said the good Samaritan, no need to thank

me, and added, Do you want me to help you to get settled and

keep you company until your wife arrives. This zeal suddenly

struck the blind man as being suspect, obviously he would not

invite a complete stranger to come in who, after all, might well

be plotting at that very moment how to overcome, tie up and

gag the poor defenceless blind man, and then lay hands on anything

of value. Theres no need, please dont bother, he said,

Im fine, and as he slowly began closing the door, he repeated,

Theres no need, theres no need.

    Hearing the sound of the elevator descending he gave a sigh

of relief. With a mechanical gesture, forgetting the state in

which he found himself, he drew back the lid of the peephole

and looked outside. It was as if there were a white wall on the

other side. He could feel the contact of the metallic frame on

his eyebrow, his eyelashes brushed against the tiny lens, but he

could not see out, an impenetrable whiteness covered everything.

He knew he was in his own home, he recognised the

smell, the atmosphere, the silence, he could make out the items

of furniture and objects simply by touching them, lightly running

his fingers over them, but at the same time it was as if all

of this were already dissolving into a kind of strange dimension,

without direction or reference points, with neither north

nor south, below nor above. Like most people, he had often

played as a child at pretending to be blind, and, after keeping

his eyes closed for five minutes, he had reached the conclusion

that blindness, undoubtedly a terrible affliction, might still be

relatively bearable if the unfortunate victim had retained suffi

cient memory, not just of the colours, but also of forms and

planes, surfaces and shapes, assuming of course, that this one

was not born blind. He had even reached the point of thinking

that the darkness in which the blind live was nothing other

than the simple absence of light, that what we call blindness

was something that simply covered the appearance of beings

and things, leaving them intact behind their black veil. Now,

on the contrary, here he was, plunged into a whiteness so luminous,

so total, that it swallowed up rather than absorbed, not

just the colours, but the very things and beings, thus making

them twice as invisible…


Terrible voting weather, remarked the presiding offi

cer of polling station fourteen as he snapped shut his

soaked umbrella and took offthe raincoat that had proved of

little use to him during the breathless forty-meter dash from

the place where he had parked his car to the door through

which, heart pounding, he had just appeared. I hope Im not

the last, he said to the secretary, who was standing slightly away

from the door, safe from the sheets of rain which, caught by

the wind, were drenching the floor. Your deputy hasnt arrived

yet, but weve still got plenty of time, said the secretary soothingly,

With rain like this, itll be a feat in itself if we all manage

to get here, said the presiding officer as they went into the

room where the voting would take place. He greeted, first, the

poll clerks who would act as scrutineers and then the party representatives

and their deputies. He was careful to address exactly

the same words to all of them, not allowing his face or

tone of voice to betray any political and ideological leanings of

his own. A presiding officer, even of an ordinary polling station

like this, should, in all circumstances, be guided by the strictest

sense of independence, he should, in short, always observe


     As well as the general dampness, which made an already oppressive

atmosphere still muggier, for the room had only two

narrow windows that looked out onto a courtyard which was

gloomy even on sunny days, there was a sense of unease which,

to use the vernacular expression, you could have cut with a

knife. They should have postponed the elections, said the representative

of the party in the middle, or the p.i.t.m., I mean,

its been raining nonstop since yesterday, there are landslips

and floods everywhere, the abstention rate this time around

will go sky-high. The representative from the party on the

right, or the p.o.t.r., nodded in agreement, but felt that his contribution

to the conversation should be couched in the form of

a cautious comment, Obviously, I wouldnt want to underestimate

the risk of that, but I do feel that our fellow citizens high

sense of civic duty, which they have demonstrated before on so

many occasions, is deserving of our every confidence, they are

aware, indeed, acutely so, of the vital importance of these municipal

elections for the future of the capital. Having each said

their piece, the representative of the p.i.t.m. and the representative

of the p.o.t.r. turned, with a half- sceptical, half-ironic air,

to the representative of the party on the left, the p.o.t.l., curious

to know what opinion he would come up with. At that

precise moment, however, the presiding officers deputy burst

into the room, dripping water everywhere, and, as one might

expect, now that the cast of polling station officers was complete,

the welcome he received was more than just cordial, it

was positively enthusiastic. We therefore never heard the viewpoint

of the representative of the p.o.t.l., although, on the basis

of a few known antecedents, one can assume that he would,

without fail, have taken a line of bright historical optimism,

something like, The people who vote for my party are not the

sort to let themselves be put offby a minor obstacle like this,

theyre not the kind to stay at home just because of a few mis-

erable drops of rain falling from the skies. It was not, however,

a matter of a few miserable drops of rain, there were bucketfuls,

jugfuls, whole niles, iguaçús and yangtses of the stuff, but

faith, may it be eternally blessed, as well as removing mountains

from the path of those who benefit from its influence,

is capable of plunging into the most torrential of waters and

emerging from them bone-dry.

     With the table now complete, with each officer in his or

her allotted place, the presiding officer signed the official edict

and asked the secretary to affix it, as required by law, outside

the building, but the secretary, demonstrating a degree of basic

common sense, pointed out that the piece of paper would

not last even one minute on the wall outside, in two ticks the

ink would have run and in three the wind would have carried it

off. Put it inside, then, out of the rain, the law doesnt say what

to do in these circumstances, the main thing is that the edict

should be pinned up where it can be seen. He asked his colleagues

if they were in agreement, and they all said they were,

with the proviso on the part of the representative of the p.o.t.r.

that this decision should be recorded in the minutes in case

they were ever challenged on the matter. When the secretary

returned from his damp mission, the presiding officer asked

him what it was like out there, and he replied with a wry shrug,

Just the same, rain, rain, rain, Any voters out there, Not a sign.

The presiding officer stood up and invited the poll clerks and

the three party representatives to follow him into the voting

chamber, which was found to be free of anything that might

sully the purity of the political choices to be made there during

the day. This formality completed, they returned to their

places to examine the electoral roll, which they found to be

equally free of irregularities, lacunae or anything else of a suspicious

nature. The solemn moment had arrived when the presiding

officer uncovers and displays the ballot box to the voters

so that they can certify that it is empty, and tomorrow, if necessary,

bear witness to the fact that no criminal act has introduced

into it, at dead of night, the false votes that would corrupt

the free and sovereign political will of the people, and so

that there would be no electoral shenanigans, as theyre so picturesquely

known, and which, let us not forget, can be committed

before, during or after the act, depending on the efficiency

of the perpetrators and their accomplices and the opportunities

available to them. The ballot box was empty, pure, immaculate,

but there was not a single voter in the room to whom it

could be shown. Perhaps one of them is lost out there, battling

with the torrents, enduring the whipping winds, clutching to

his bosom the document that proves he is a fully enfranchised

citizen, but, judging by the look of the sky right now, hell be

a long time coming, if, that is, he doesnt end up simply going

home and leaving the fate of the city to those with a black car

to drop them offat the door and pick them up again once the

person in the back seat has fulfilled his or her civic duty.

    After the various materials have been inspected, the law of

this country states that the presiding officer should immediately

cast his vote, as should the poll clerks, the party representatives

and their respective deputies, as long, of course, as

they are registered at that particular polling station, as was

the case here. Even by stretching things out, four minutes was

more than enough time for the ballot box to receive its first

eleven votes. And then, there was nothing else for it, the waiting

began. Barely half an hour had passed when the presiding

officer, who was getting anxious, suggested that one of the poll

clerks should go and see if anyone was coming, voters might

have turned up to find the door blown shut by the wind and

gone offin a huff, grumbling that the government might at

least have had the decency to inform people that the elections

had been postponed, that, after all, was what the radio and tele-

vision were for, to broadcast such information. The secretary

said, But everyone knows that when a door blows shut it makes

the devil of a noise, and we havent heard a thing in here. The

poll clerk hesitated, will I, wont I, but the presiding officer insisted.

Go on, please, and be careful, dont get wet. The door

was open, the wedge securely in place. The clerk stuck his head

out, a moment was all it took to glance from one side to the

other and then draw back, dripping, as if he had put his head

under a shower. He wanted to proceed like a good poll clerk,

to please the presiding officer, and, since it was the first time he

had been called upon to perform this function, he also wanted

to be appreciated for the speed and efficiency with which he

had carried out his duties, who knows, with time and experience,

he might one day be the person presiding over a polling

station, higher flights of ambition than this have traversed

the sky of providence and no one has so much as batted an eye.

When he went back into the room, the presiding officer, halfrueful,

half-amused, exclaimed, There was no need to get yourself

soaked, man, Oh, it doesnt matter, sir, said the clerk, drying

his cheek on the sleeve of his jacket, Did you spot anyone,

    As far as I could see, no one, its like a desert of water out there.

The presiding officer got up, took a few uncertain steps around

the table, went into the voting chamber, looked inside and came

back. The representative of the p.i.t.m. spoke up to remind the

others of his prediction that the abstention rate would go skyhigh,

the representative of the p.o.t.r. once more played the role

of pacifier, the voters had all day to vote, they were probably

just waiting for the rain to let up. This time the representative

of the p.o.t.l. chose to remain silent, thinking what a pathetic

figure he would be cutting now if he had actually said what he

was going to say when the presiding officers deputy had come

into the room, It would take more than a few miserable drops

of rain to put offmy partys voters. The secretary, on whom all

eyes were expectantly turned, opted for a practical suggestion,

You know, it might not be a bad idea to phone the ministry and

ask how the elections are going elsewhere in the city and in the

rest of the country too, that way we would find out if this civic

power cut was a general thing or if were the only ones whom

the voters have declined to illumine with their votes. The representative

of the p.o.t.r. sprang indignantly to his feet, I demand

that it be set down in the minutes that, as representative

of the p.o.t.r., I strongly object to the disrespectful manner and

the unacceptably mocking tone in which the secretary has just

referred to the voters, who are the supreme defenders of democracy,

and without whom tyranny, any of the many tyrannies

that exist in the world, would long ago have overwhelmed the

nation that bore us. The secretary shrugged and asked, Shall I

make a note of the representative of the p.o.t.r.s comments, sir,

No, I dont think that will be necessary, its just that were all a

bit tense and perplexed and puzzled, and, as we all know, in that

state of mind, its very easy to say things we dont really believe,

and Im sure the secretary didnt mean to offend anyone, why,

he himself is a voter conscious of his responsibilities, the proof

being that he, as did all of us, braved the elements to answer

the call of duty, nevertheless, my feelings of gratitude, however

sincere, do not prevent me asking the secretary to keep rigorously

to the task assigned to him and to abstain from any comments

that might shock the personal or political sensibilities of

the other people here. The representative of the p.o.t.r. made a

brusque gesture which the presiding officer chose to interpret

as one of agreement, and the argument went no further, thanks,

in large measure, to the representative of the p.i.t.m., who took

up the secretarys proposal, Its true, he said, were like shipwreck

victims in the middle of the ocean, with no sails and no

compass, no mast and no oars, and with no diesel in the tank either,

Yes, youre quite right, said the presiding officer, Ill phone

the ministry now. There was a telephone on another table and

he walked over to it, carrying the instruction leaflet he had been

given days before and on which were printed, amongst other

useful things, the telephone numbers of the ministry of the


What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 13 comments:

slsteckler, May 31, 2014 (view all comments by slsteckler)
When I first started to read this novel, I had a hard time getting into the writing structure. There just seemed to be a lot of adjectives, I didn’t know who was talking and there were no quotation marks around speech, things that I wasn’t sure I could handle for 326 pages but after getting into the story, I couldn’t put it down. The story reminds me of the 2005 Superdome incident with Hurricane Katrina only this book was written in 1995, both had major incidents where the government intervened yet were so unprepared and about how some people acted. To have the ophthalmologist’s wife hide among all the infected individuals witnessing what was happening and to keep quiet about it, I don’t know how she did it or how she stayed well so long. They had that gang mentality, to stay alive and stay together which I started to feel and gather within myself and I wanted them to succeed. Some of the book wasn’t pleasant but if you think about what they thought they were up against, it was a hard life they were living. A beautiful scene was when the three naked women were out washing clothes on the balcony during the rain storm. Exposed to the world, these women cried as they washed clothes, each woman uttering adjectives describing the other women as they washed - very emotional and powerful scene. It really was a moving book and put things into perspective for me.
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lukas, April 13, 2014 (view all comments by lukas)
I've read a few books by the late Portuguese Nobel winner Jose Saramago, but this is by far the best. He's sometimes described as a fabulist and compared to Calvino, Eco and Murakami. This novel, about an unnamed city, struck by a plague of blindness, feels something like J.G. Ballard rewriting Camus's "The Plague." It is both a powerful, resonant allegory and a visceral novel about regular people in extraordinary circumstances. It was made into a film several years ago. Followed by "Seeing."
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nsm2792, January 19, 2012 (view all comments by nsm2792)
It is a good book because it opens your mind through ideas and make you think about them.This book learns you to look positive to everything so your life become better.It's true that we are not living in a paradise but understanding that why some people or you are doing something wrong will make your world like paradise. With this book I understand that our looking and our judgments make our world worse and worse consequently we can make it better ourselves by looking good,thinking good and judging good.
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Product Details

Saramago, Jose
Mariner Books
Pontiero, Giovanni
San Diego :
Continental european fiction (fictional works
Psychological fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Number:
1st Harvest ed.
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Harvest Book
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
from 9
8.25 x 5.5 in
Age Level:
from 14

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Blindness Used Trade Paper
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Product details 352 pages Mariner Books - English 9780156007757 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Beautifully written in a concise, haunting prose...this unsettling, highly original work is essential reading."
"Review" by , "Saramago's Blindness is the best novel I've read since Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Love in the Time of Cholera. It is a novel of enormous skill and authority....Like all great books it is simultaneously contemporary and timeless, and ambitiously confronts the human condition without a false note struck anywhere. Saramago is one of the great writers of our time, and Blindness, ironically is the product of his extraordinary vision."
"Review" by , "Blindness may be as revolutionary in its own way and time as were, say, The Trial and The Plague were in theirs. Another masterpiece."
"Review" by , "Saramago writes phantasmagoria — in the midst of the most astonishing fantasy he has a meticulous sense of detail. It's very eloquent stuff."
"Review" by , "It is the voice of Blindness that gives it its charm. By turns ironic, humorous and frank, there is a kind of wink of humor between author and reader that is perfectly imbued with fury at the excesses of the current century. Blindness reminds me of Kafka roaring with laughter as he read his stories to his friends....Blindness' impact carries the force of an author whose sensibility is significant."
"Review" by , "Blindness is a shattering work by a literary master."
"Review" by , "More frightening than Stephen King, as unrelenting as a bad dream, José Saramago's Blindness politely rubs our faces in apocalypse....A metaphor like 'white blindness' might easily seem forced or labored, but Saramago makes it live by focusing on the stubbornly literal; his account of a clump of newly blind people trying to find their way to food or to the bathroom provides some surprisingly gripping passages. While this epidemic has a clear symbolic burden, it's also a real and very inconvenient affliction."
"Synopsis" by , In Blindness, a city is overcome by an epidemic of blindness that spares only one woman. She becomes a guide for a group of seven strangers and serves as the eyes and ears for the reader in this profound parable of loss and disorientation. We return to the city years later in Saramagos Seeing, a satirical commentary on government in general and democracy in particular. Together here for the first time, this beautiful edition will be a welcome addition to the library of any Saramago fan.
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