Cain by Jose Saramago

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Cain by Jose Saramago

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: To some a little heretical, but this barbed lok at the Old Testament god has an unarguable survey of what happens when a man feels a lack of compassion from above.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: July 2012
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780099552246

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Death is only the beginning, or so some say, and the first death of one human at the hands of another - Cain's slaying of Abel with what always seemed an unlikely murder weapon - is the start of this excoriating drive through what Cain felt when set against the god that both snubbed his sacrifices and allowed, despite alleged omnipotence, the murder in the first place. Riding a donkey, this Cain takes up life as personal guard and lover to Lilith, but also leaves the Land of Nod for diverse Old Testament locations, where he sees the stories of the golden calf, the tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah and more at first hand. All they ever do is make him realise the gulf between what god is supposed to benevolently embody, and how he acts.

You have but to remember how religious a country Portugal is to realise how much impact is in this short novel from there for the right reader. This is a book which is very overt in stating the history of mankind is the history of our misunderstandings with god, for he doesn't understand us, and we don't understand him. It's narrated by an academic first person plural, who decide that Abraham's response to being told to kill his son Isaac should have been piss off. It's a book that knows the Old Testament, and also knows mankind, and deems the set-up of the Original Sin a ridiculous decision, for surely temptation is a much more minor problem than man failing to be inquisitive.

Inasmuch as it's anti-religious, which by ending in such a self-denying full stop I don't think it can be, it doesn't present itself as the Bible does. Here we have Saramago's usual long sentences and page-long paragraphs, and only the most basic of capitalisation. Yet you never lose the thread or the pacing of the dialogue. It looks lumpen on the page, but has a sprightliness, to some a humour (which peaked for me with page 3's sex metaphor, and went downhill). I would also say it has an arch sarcasm if only fewer people believed sarcasm to be the lowest form of wit, as recurring angel characters have a sort of common, unionised 'we have no idea' response when it comes to explaining god's plan.

Saramago's plan doesn't seem to have been to upset too many temples, sacred cows or apple-carts. He doesn't strike one as wanting to alienate (or am I too thick-skinned in my atheism? Does Saramago really re-interpret much, if anything?) What he does do is show the flexibility in use of the Word and how much the Old Testament has altered since first written; the inconclusive response it can lead to given all its complexity; and mostly the lack of justice one might feel in a god that you were all along only trying to appease with your actions, just as Cain was here. Adam and Eve showed man's nature to be different to that intended, as did all those redressed by the Flood. It should be in your nature to be open to exploring our culture as in these pages.

I must thanl the publishers for my review copy.

For a much safer revisit of this text, there is Robert Crumb's Book of Genesis: All 50 Chapters by Robert Crumb. The Saramago we enjoy ranges from historical fiction to his own history.

Buy Cain by Jose Saramago at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Cain by Jose Saramago at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Cain by Jose Saramago at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Cain by Jose Saramago at Amazon.com.


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