If you've never read, Blindness, you're missing out. The literary masterpiece that triggered Jose Saramago’s receipt of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature is almost impossible to put down.
Blindness (entitled Ensaio sobre a Cegueira on the original Portuguese edition) centers on a random collection of characters in an unnamed city, thrown together as they succumb to a sudden and unfathomable plague of blindness. Forced into quarantine in a squalid asylum, Saramago details the stricken characters’ desperate fight for survival and the ensuing social and political breakdown. A more apt fictional case study of human tendencies has arguably never existed. The rapid deterioration of systems, society and in some cases even decency are staggering throughout the pages. The sequel, Seeing, completes the saga, featuring some of the same characters.
The book was so highly acclaimed that it was even adapted to a high profile film in 2008, starring Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore. Having refused to sell the cinematic rights for nearly a decade, Saramago finally relented, and Fernando Meirelles’ movie again sparked interest in this remarkable book about how society can collapse.
Promoted to audiences as a dramatic thriller featuring an epidemic, riots, government conspiracy and end-of-the-world disaster, many movie viewers were reportedly unprepared for Meirelles’s vivid portrayal of Saramago’s nightmare, which is at times shockingly violent and hopelessly bleak. Saramago, however, was no stranger to controversy - his portrayal of a fallible Jesus in The Gospel According to Jesus Christ resulted in his exclusion from the 1991 European Literary Prize competition and consequent emigration to the Canary Islands.
Once described by Harold Bloom as “the most gifted novelist alive in the world today,” Saramago broke into international fame after winning the Portuguese PEN Club Award for Baltasar and Bilmunda in 1982, and has been renowned for his fantastical plots and striking scenarios ever since. He passed away in June, 2010 at the age of 87.
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