Book - 2011
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"Suitably disturbing--and a pleasure to read." -- The Scotsman

In this, his last novel, José Saramago daringly reimagines the characters and narratives of the Old Testament, recalling his provocative The Gospel According to Jesus Christ . His tale runs from the Garden of Eden, when God realizes he has forgotten to give Adam and Eve the gift of speech, to the moment when Noah's Ark lands on the dry peak of Ararat. Cain, the despised, the murderer, is Saramago's protagonist.

Condemned to wander forever after he kills his brother Abel, Cain makes his way through the world in the company of a personable donkey. He is a witness to and participant in the stories of Isaac and Abraham, the destruction of the Tower of Babel, Moses and the golden calf, the trials of Job. The rapacious Queen Lilith takes him as her lover. An old man with two sheep on a rope crosses his path. And again and again, Cain encounters a God whose actions seem callous, cruel, and unjust. He confronts Him, he argues with Him. "And one thing we know for certain," Saramago writes, "is that they continued to argue and are arguing still."

A startling book--sensual, funny--in all ways a fitting end to Saramago's extraordinary career.

Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, c2011.
ISBN: 9780547419893
Characteristics: 159 p. ;,22 cm.
Additional Contributors: Costa, Margaret Jull


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Jul 29, 2015

Plain, smart-alec-y, unfinished, unpolished; not much more than a first draft.

melwyk Feb 13, 2012

The basic story follows the character of Cain as he is cast out for killing his brother Abel, and then moves throughout time to become a character in many other well-known moments in the biblical story -- such as when Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac, and it is Cain who saves him. Episodes like this occur in most of the places that Cain finds himself, and he complains to and about a God who is inconsistent, vainglorious, and demanding. Cain is a strong-minded individual who has a strong sense of himself and his place in the world. He is grounded in the here and now, and is a sexual being as well as a physical labourer. His concern is for this world, not in following the dictates of a capricious Lord. Through his strength of mind and his long association with The Lord, they begin to develop a bit of a relationship that goes beyond a minion worshipping his betters.

The ending was a bit discombobulating. I'm not sure yet what to make of it. But it's a book full of vim and vigour -- it would make a fabulous book club selection as there are sure to be strong opinions on both sides amongst readers. I'd love to discuss this one myself, as there are moments where I would like to ask WTF? and then other moments which I found both clever and incisive. It exhibits Saramago's intellect wrestling with tradition and is worth reading for the ideas he raises, even if you don't agree with all of them yourself. I found it more of an intellectual exercise than an emotionally satisfying novel though. If you're a Saramago fan or someone who likes to imagine alternate lives for neglected characters in well known stories you will probably want to read this one.

debwalker Oct 03, 2011

Shelf Talker: A retelling of Genesis with Cain as the central character, travelling through time to visit some of the lord's great mass atrocities in biblical history.

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