Saturday, February 6, 2010

Recommend Me

Recommend Me is a weekly event hosted by Kate at The Neverending Shelf in which participants will pick one of their all time favorite reads to share.

"This could be a book that you read yesterday or years ago. To play along, grab a favorite read and tell us about it. You can include your thoughts about the novel, its summary, your favorite memory related to the novel... the possibilities are limitless. If you are up for a challenge, you can also include:

-Your review of the novel
-Links to others' reviews of the novel
-Recommending to a general group of readers or if you want to be extra daring, to specific reader friends "

I am recommending Blindness by Jose Saramago. In September of 2007, I was wandering the Literature Shelves in Borders, not quite sure what I was in the mood for, but determined not to leave until I had found a new book to bring home with me. I rarely enter the bookstore with a list, although I have over 200 books that I desperately want to purchase... I prefer browsing and letting the books call to me while there. Where is the fun in bringing a list, hitting the shelf it sits on, and walking out???

As I was wandering, having made it all the way to the letter "S" without finding "the one", I stumbled across Jose Saramago. The cover for Blindness was on display in the shelf, facing outward at me, almost daring me to pick it up with it blinding white cover. Little did I know how fitting that cover was to it's subject matter.

Jose Saramago is not for everyone. For starters, he writes in his original language of Porteguese, and it sometimes takes years for his work to become translated for American consumption. His writing style is unique and can be off-putting for readers who prefer the strict rules of syntax and grammar. Saramago does not use quotation marks to identify when his characters are speaking, nor does he note which character is speaking, causing the confused reader to backtrack and reread pages at a time to track conversations or determine if the words were even spoken aloud. His paragraphs can run for many pages, and include insane amounts of run-on sentences, which at times can flow for up to 10 lines at a time. There have been whispers that it is Saramago's translators who are recklessly tampering with his sentence structures, but I strongly disagree. There have been others who call his style a "gimmick", which could not be further from the truth.

Dear readers, please do not let this put you off. I mention this as a warning, however, I am also recommending that you do not miss the beauty and passion that is found within any of his pages. I want you to experience his stories and writing for yourselves, and I believe Blindness is the perfect introduction.

Perhaps many of you are already familiar with the film? Do not let that stop you from reading the novel. While the film does a wonderful job capturing the chaos and breakdown of human society when facing an uncontrollable, unstoppable, incapaciting plague such as "the blindness", it simply cannot match the confusion and panic found within the book.

For those of you who are unaware of Saramago's Blindness or the film, here is Goodreads synopsis:

"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."

Go and get it. Now.
And then follow it up with Seeing, the somewhat sequel, that picks up 4 years after Blindness, in the same town.

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