Among North American readers, José Saramago is most famous for his novel Blindness, which was translated into English in 1997, a year before the Portuguese novelist won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Blindness is both gripping and scary, a book one is tempted to read as quickly as possible just to break free of Saramago's manipulative if brilliantly conjured nightmare. The novel is about an unexplained plague that renders an entire city (with one exception) sightless. Saramago, an avowed pessimist and a member of the Portuguese Communist Party since 1969, uses this conceit to explore human cruelty and the corrupting force of power.
The first people in Blindness who lose their sight are rounded up like lepers and deposited at an old mental hospital. In the book's most queasy passage, a gang of bullies takes control of the food supply and demands sexual favours for rations. Ultimately, a reader is tempted to explain the blindness of the novel with a Kafka-like paradox: The people in Blindness are struck blind as punishment for the crimes they will later commit.
Saramago's new novel, Seeing, is a companion piece, a backhanded sequel to Blindness. Whereas the earlier book deals with cruelty among the powerless, Seeing concerns the viciousness of those who control the military, the media and the police.
Seeing is also a strange, markedly different, strangely divided book.
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