Book review: José Saramago’s “Cain”

Nobel Prize winner José Saramago is known for his dark words such as Blindness. Who knew he was such a comedian?

The late Portuguese’s last novel, Cain, released last month, tells some of the stories of the Bible from the perspective of Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, who killed his brother, Abel, out of jealousy. After the murder, Cain witnesses historical events from the Bible – the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the creation of the golden calf and the construction of Noah’s Ark.

Through it all, Saramago offers some wry observations – such as when Eve complains about having diarrhea. “What’s diarrhea, asked the angel, Another word for it is the runs, the vocabulary the lord taught us has a word for everything, having diarrhea or the runs, if you prefer that term, means that you can’t retain the shit you have inside you.”

Or this, when Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac: “The logical, natural and simply human response would have been for abraham to tell the lord to piss off, but that isn’t what happened.”

(By the way, Saramago doesn’t capitalize names or use quote marks in the book.)

Of course, Saramago, who was known for his atheist views, is mocking the Bible. Cain frequently questions the Lord’s motives in killing thousands of innocent lives during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Golden Calf. Fans of Kurt Vonnegut and Christopher Hitches will love this stuff.

Saramago writes in never-ending sentences and never-ending paragraphs that may have some readers rereading passages. But, at 159 pages, Cain is a quick read and, considering the complexity of his other books, this may be a good starting point for his work.

More about José Saramago:

Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. The Nobel’s website includes this biography.

Margaret Jull Costa, who translated Cain and Paulo Coelho’s recent book Aleph, wrote about him in this article for Granta magazine.


1 Comment

Filed under 2011 Books, Author Profiles, Book Reviews

One response to “Book review: José Saramago’s “Cain”

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