switterbug (Betsey)'s Reviews > Cain

Cain by José Saramago
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Sep 13, 11

Read in September, 2011

God is ineffable, say his disciples. In Saramago's recreation of the old testament, god is snide, foppish, vicious, capricious, puerile, contemptuous, crabby, and a slouch at multi-tasking (and no iconic capital letters for this merry band of pranksters). This short but adventure-packed novella presents a new twist on the story of cain, the fratricidal brother. Weed out all the boring parts of Genesis, feature all the greatest hits, and place cain as the ubiquitous character. Actually, cain even shows up at events that god is too distracted to attend (and his angels are stuck in traffic?).

In addition to being an erudite little gem, this story is full of slicing irony mixed with slapstick humor and dry, bone-dry, desert-dry wit. He's too subtle to just rant on the lord. Saramago seems to be peeking out of the corners of the pages, winking at the reader, offering a sly smile. As an arch example, Eve calls herself the First Lady of Paradise.

Saramago, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, was an ardent atheist, who said that the Bible is a handbook of bad morals. He also impugns a "cruel, jealous, and inhumane God (who) exists only in our heads." In 1992, a scandal erupted after The Gospel According to Jesus Christ was published, whose characterization of God didn't conform to certain pieties, so Saramago happily moved to the Spanish Canary Islands, where he lived until his death in 2010. He didn't think CAIN would offend Catholics, though, "because they don't read the Bible."

This is his final contribution to the world of literature. Although not his most superlative--by definition it is contained--it is still masterful, and had me laughing with glee at intervals. Check out his 1995 Blindness for a novel of unsurpassed beauty, staggering tragedy, and stunning redemption.
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