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Blindness [Paperback]

Jose Saramago
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (235 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 1 1999 Harvest Book

From Nobel Prize–winning author José Saramago, a magnificent, mesmerizing parable of loss

 

A city is hit by an epidemic of "white blindness" that spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and assaulting women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides her charges—among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears—through the barren streets, and their procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. As Blindness reclaims the age-old story of a plague, it evokes the vivid and trembling horrors of the twentieth century, leaving readers with a powerful vision of the human spirit that's bound both by weakness and exhilarating strength.


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Product Description

From Amazon

In an unnamed city in an unnamed country, a man sitting in his car waiting for a traffic light to change is suddenly struck blind. But instead of being plunged into darkness, this man sees everything white, as if he "were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea." A Good Samaritan offers to drive him home (and later steals his car); his wife takes him by taxi to a nearby eye clinic where they are ushered past other patients into the doctor's office. Within a day the man's wife, the taxi driver, the doctor and his patients, and the car thief have all succumbed to blindness. As the epidemic spreads, the government panics and begins quarantining victims in an abandoned mental asylum--guarded by soldiers with orders to shoot anyone who tries to escape. So begins Portuguese author José Saramago's gripping story of humanity under siege, written with a dearth of paragraphs, limited punctuation, and embedded dialogue minus either quotation marks or attribution. At first this may seem challenging, but the style actually contributes to the narrative's building tension, and to the reader's involvement.

In this community of blind people there is still one set of functioning eyes: the doctor's wife has affected blindness in order to accompany her husband to the asylum. As the number of victims grows and the asylum becomes overcrowded, systems begin to break down: toilets back up, food deliveries become sporadic; there is no medical treatment for the sick and no proper way to bury the dead. Inevitably, social conventions begin to crumble as well, with one group of blind inmates taking control of the dwindling food supply and using it to exploit the others. Through it all, the doctor's wife does her best to protect her little band of blind charges, eventually leading them out of the hospital and back into the horribly changed landscape of the city.

Blindness is in many ways a horrific novel, detailing as it does the total breakdown in society that follows upon this most unnatural disaster. 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. The devil is in the details, and Saramago has imagined for us in all its devastation a hell where those who went blind in the streets can never find their homes again, where people are reduced to eating chickens raw and packs of dogs roam the excrement-covered sidewalks scavenging from corpses.

And yet in the midst of all this horror Saramago has written passages of unsurpassed beauty. Upon being told she is beautiful by three of her charges, women who have never seen her, "the doctor's wife is reduced to tears because of a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, mere grammatical categories, mere labels, just like the two women, the others, indefinite pronouns, they too are crying, they embrace the woman of the whole sentence, three graces beneath the falling rain." In this one woman Saramago has created an enduring, fully developed character who serves both as the eyes and ears of the reader and as the conscience of the race. And in Blindness he has written a profound, ultimately transcendent meditation on what it means to be human. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Brilliant Portuguese fabulist Saramago (The History of the Siege of Lisbon) has never shied away from big game. His previous works have rewritten the history of Portugal, reimagined the life of Christ and remodeled a continent by cleaving the Iberian peninsula from Europe and setting it adrift. Here, Saramago stalks two of our oldest themes in the tale of a plague of blindness that strikes an unnamed European city. At the novel's opening, a driver sits in traffic, waiting for the light to change. By the time it does, his field of vision is white, a "milky sea." One by one, each person the man encounters?the not-so-good Samaritan who drives him home, the man's wife, the ophthalmologist, the patients waiting to see the ophthalmologist?is struck blind. Like any inexplicable contagion, this plague of "white sickness" sets off panic. The government interns the blind, as well as those exposed to them, in an abandoned mental hospital guarded by an army with orders to shoot any detainee who tries to escape. Like Camus, to whom he cannot help being compared, Saramago uses the social disintegration of people in extremis as a crucible in which to study the combustion of our vices and virtues. As order at the mental hospital breaks down and the contagion spreads, the depraved overpower the decent. When the hospital is consumed in flames, the fleeing internees find that everyone has gone blind. Sightless people rove in packs, scavenging for food, sleeping wherever they can. Throughout the narrative, one character remains sighted, the ophthalmologist's wife. Claiming to be blind so she may be interned with her husband, she eventually becomes the guide and protector for an improvised family. Indeed, she is the reader's guide and stand-in, the repository of human decency, the hero, if such an elaborate fable can have a hero. Even after so many factual accounts of mass cruelty, this most sophisticated fiction retains its peculiar power to move and persuade. Editor, Drenka Willen. (Sept.) FYI: Paperback editions of The History of the Siege of Lisbon and Baltasar and Blimunda will be issued simultaneously.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Luminous, White Blindness March 30 2004
Format:Paperback
BLINDNESS is thought of by most people as Jose Saramago's masterpiece (although all of his works of fiction, with the exception of THE TALE OF THE UNKNOWN ISLAND are masterpieces) and, while I think THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS may be more sophisticated, I do think BLINDNESS encompasses the most universal theme.
BLINDNESS begins when a man in his car is waiting for a light to change. Before it does, however, he suddenly loses his sight completely. The blindness that has afflicted this poor driver is no "ordinary" blindness, however. Besides the speed with which it overtook him, it's a luminous whiteness rather than darkness.
The person who helps the man home is soon afflicted with the same blindness, himself, as is his wife and the doctor the first man consults. In fact, impossible as it sounds, this "white blindness" seems to be contagious and soon an entire group of people have been afflicted.
The blindness soon comes to be known as the "white sickness." Fearing an epidemic, officials round up those who have been affected and quarantine them in an empty mental hospital. This group consists of the first blind man, his wife, the doctor, the doctor's wife and three of the doctor's patients. The doctor's wife, however, for some unknown reason, hasn't lost her sight. She only pretends to do so so she can remain with her husband. As the book progresses, she not only becomes the "eyes" for the people in her group, she becomes the "eyes" for the reader as well.
As the hospital fills, it soon becomes clear that the quarantined victims weren't quarantined soon enough. The blindness is spreading like wildfire.
Inside the hospital, those afflicted have formed "groups" and each group is intent on protecting its own territory.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SIMPLY A MASTERPIECE! Jan. 16 2004
By JRU
Format:Paperback
How can you trust another human being after reading a book like Blindness? Why should you trust another one? And be disappointed? And feel rejection? And feel unloved?
BLINDNESS is a masterpiece. A moving work of unbelievable power. THE WASHINGTON POST called it "an important book, one that is unafraid to face all the horrors of the (20th) century." But, let me call it "Saramago's personal gift to humanity," and let me explain why.
Reading it is like being guided, by something, familiar but distant, unknown. Our childhood perhaps? Our inner demon? Or maybe just Saramago deliberately guiding the reader? I laughed whilst reading the "rape scene", I honestly found it hillarious. The incorporation of all the bits-and-pieces didnt break my heart, I just found it too clinical, if not comical (The technique reminded me of that now-classic and misunderstood book AMERICAN PSYCHO, and Banville's THE BOOK OF EVIDENCE, though, for obvious reason, BLINDNESS is far more important than the two mentioned works).
I found myself laughing whilst reading the "rape scene". And after that, a moment of silence. I felt disgust. Of myself. I saw myself as a bystander of an unimaginable cruelty... and I just laughed.
The 'prisoners' fighting for their food I found quite comical as well, and many more. And I wonder whether the light-hearted treatment of these scenes are deliberate. Saramago saying, "Hey, the world is full of hatred, but what are you doing about it?" You're just laughing.
This is beautiful book. We should all give our politicians this book (or such book) for Christmas.
FIVE STARS
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Will Endure Sept. 10 2000
Format:Paperback
When it comes to giving a shock to the reader early on, no novelist can match the tactics of Jose Saramago. The Portuguese master has endless surprises up his sleeve: a whole peninsula gliding down the deep sea (THE STONE RAFT); a dead poet meting his living alter-ego in a hotel room (THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS); or a strange machine flying high in the air, powered by 'human will' (BALTASAR AND BLIMUNDA)! If these are not weird enough, Saramago has chosen to turn a whole nation blind in the novel BLINDNESS. Blindness is always a powerful literary metaphor, and in the hands of Saramago it dazzles, as he pries into its numerous connotations. In his Nobel Lecture the author proclaimed that he 'wrote BLINDNESS to remind those who might read it, that we pervert reason when we humiliate life, that human dignity is insulted everyday by the powerful of the world, that the universal lie has replaced the plural truth, that man stopped respecting himself when he lost the respect due to his fellow-creatures.'
The novel has a simple and realistic storyline. A man sitting in his car suddenly goes blind at a busy traffic inter-section. All who come in contact with the unfortunate man - the man who escorts him to his home, the eye doctor, and the patients who were with him at the clinic - lose their sights one by one. When the matter is reported to the authorities, all these blind people are huddled together and quarantined in a wretched building that was once a lunatic asylum. The eye doctor's wife, who is inexplicably spared her sight, also sneaks into the building pretending blindness. A life of untold misery is in store for them.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't close my eyes
I read this book a few years ago now but I find the story still haunts me. I found it difficult at first time adjust to the authors style of writing, however the story quickly... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Ggreeneyes
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply masterful
Blindness is one of those books that's really like no other I've read. It's written in a unusual style but one that was an easy read once you got into the rhythm. Read more
Published on Dec 30 2011 by Kadi Kaljuste
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
Amazing, Amazing and Amazing. If you are into different writing styles, you will love Jose Saramago's style. Takes getting used to, but when you do, you will get hooked. Read more
Published on Oct. 14 2009 by S. El-Hilo
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of a deep thinker
The great gift of this writer is that he can write a simple story with simple words producing in the final an astonishing result. Read more
Published on July 8 2009 by M. Rau
4.0 out of 5 stars great display of the bright and dark sides of the human spirit
Saramago's Blindness is such a compelling story that despite the style of writing and lack of punctuation, it was still a page turner. Read more
Published on May 4 2009 by mellyboo
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't wait for the movie to come out on DVD
I bought a book to read over the Christmas holidays and WOW - I certainly found one in BLINDNESS. It's the type of story that once you begin reading you want to (or feel you have... Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2009 by Sheila J. Croome
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for book club
Our book club chose this book recently and almost everyone in our group loved it. It is a fascinating story and character study. Read more
Published on Feb. 24 2008 by Edmonton book lover
5.0 out of 5 stars La nature humaine dans toute sa laideur... et son éclat
Une oeuvre dure, impacable même, sur la laideur de la nature humaine dans toute son horreur et son égoïsme, mais qui voit les personnages s'accrocher au plus mince espoir de... Read more
Published on March 10 2005
3.0 out of 5 stars Human Nature Exposed
A dark look at the core of human nature and the will to survive when stripped of a sense that is widely taken for granted. Read more
Published on July 2 2004 by D. Martin
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark and Intriguing
This was a book that I loved yet could not think of one person to recommend it to. It is easy to read as no characters have names, they are just known by their professions. Read more
Published on June 3 2004
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