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By Jose Saramago

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Cain -- Very Funny, Farcical, Clever

  • Dec 22, 2011
Rating:
+5

I’ll get to the obvious warning up front to save time for those to whom it applies.  If you cannot laugh at God (or god or G-d or usw) or at the Bible no matter how artful the joke or jape then there is no reason to bother picking it up, let alone leafing through it (to say nothing of reading it).  If you are a fan of dark humor and a mature farce then move Cain to the top of your must read list.  As a quick note, I will be capitalizing letters in the review to match the book’s style where it is extremely rare to find any name or title capitalized when it isn’t the beginning of a clause/sentence.
 
The narrator of this unfortunately short romp is the perfect combination of the classical characters of wit-fool and natural-fool.  He sets the tone of the story in what amounts to the prologue of adam’s and eve’s brief stay in and expulsion from eden; this is just a taste: “It must be pointed out to our impatient readers, first, that the fiat [to be fruitful and multiply] was given once and once only, second, that men and women are not sausage machines, and, third that hormones are very complicated things, they can’t just be produced from one day to the next, nor can they be found in pharmacies or supermarkets …”  Shortly after this cain commits his crime (the conversion/argument he has with god is at times laugh out loud so I will say only that much) and becomes the marked wanderer.
 
One of cain’s punishments is to wander forever so he spends the remainder of the book wandering from one Old Testament tale to another and sometimes returning.  Like Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, cain is “unstuck in time” – to use Saramago’s trope, while cain is out riding his donkey or walking he can find himself in a different, sometimes past, sometimes future “present.”  He is, at times direct participant in familiar stories (abraham/isaac and noah) but more often he is just what I’ll call a privileged observer who is around the decision makers when they speak to their tasks (Jericho, Tower of Babel, and in job’s trial he is what amounts to the confessor to the angels sent to make sure satan stays within the rules).
 
Despite committing the first post-edenic crime, cain is presented as otherwise moral creature set against what is, most kindly put, a capricious god.  One of the events cain witnesses is abraham bargaining to save sodom and gomorrah and the subsequent destruction of these cities of the plain.  Cain contends that god was too impatient to find the minimum number of innocents in these sinful cities because, certainly, the children were innocent which should have been enough.  Of himself, god says “I never have to concern myself with considerations of a personal nature, and that I am endowed, let me say this to you now, with a conscience so flexible that it agrees with whatever I do”.  In a nutshell, this is the perfect thumbnail of how the deity behaves throughout the novel and it is a representative example of the tone that will be “sacrilegious” to those unable to find or admit humor in this arena.
 
I want to include another quote from the book that occurs after Isaac is spared.  It exemplifies the wit-fool/natural-fool tone that the narrator uses, what to me is a laugh out loud moment; it also shows the semantic style that might be frustrating for readers that require separate paragraphs and quotes to denote who is speaking when: “What would have happened if you had disobeyed the order, asked isaac, Well, the lord usually sends down ruin or disease upon anyone who fails him, So the lord is vengeful, Yes, I think he is, said abraham quietly as if he were afraid of being heard, nothing is impossible for the lord, Not even error and crime asked isaac, Especially error and crime, Father I don’t understand this religion…”  If the style is more frustrating than the humor is funny or if the humor is offensive, there is no reason to consider the book. But if, to you, both statements are false then I urge, again, adding this to the top of the must read list.

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December 26, 2011
Terrific review. Paul, this is so nice that you should post it on Amazon, if you haven't already. Mike
 
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More Cain reviews
review by . August 25, 2011
A very funny irreverant version of the Bible by a Nobel Prize winner
Jose Saramago's (1922-2010) last book Cain is a delightful, frequently funny, heretical, mocking, feverishly anti-God, retelling of the early books of the Hebrew Bible. He is the 1998 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Adam and Eve's son Cain kills his bother Abel after God accepted the latter's sacrifice and ignored Cain's, despite Cain's piety. Cain was actually the child of the angel that God set in front of the Garden of Eden to prevent Adam and Eve from reentering …
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Paul Savage ()
Ranked #57
I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
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