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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subversive, Allegorical and Brilliant!
This tour de force has got to be the most radically different kind of book since the creation of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (most likely a brother in spirit). This work, though, is more readable despite its encompassing stylistic forays into the no-no's of grammar and punctuation. What I'm saying is "Hold onto your hats, you've never read anything like it."...
Published on September 5, 2011 by Elaine Campbell

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28 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A quick, playful read - but to what end?
"Cain" is an irreverent retelling/revisioning of several Old Testament tales. Starting in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, the story soon moves on to their progeny and the novel's namesake, Cain. It is primarily from his viewpoint that the rest of the tales are communicated. After murdering his brother, Abel, and finding temporary asylum in Nod, Cain is imbued...
Published on September 6, 2011 by K. Sullivan


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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subversive, Allegorical and Brilliant!, September 5, 2011
By 
Elaine Campbell "Desert Dweller" (Rancho Mirage, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Cain (Hardcover)
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This tour de force has got to be the most radically different kind of book since the creation of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (most likely a brother in spirit). This work, though, is more readable despite its encompassing stylistic forays into the no-no's of grammar and punctuation. What I'm saying is "Hold onto your hats, you've never read anything like it."

cain is the protagonist (and I purposely do not capitalize his name as no names are capitalized in the world of Jose Saramago, at least not in this story) and it is to be remembered that cain's extraordinary journey through the world of the Old Testament is pre-Biblical. He has no points of reference (no footnotes, no exegeses, no internet commentaries) but his own direct reactive experiences to the events he witnesses by some mysterious decree (even God is puzzled by its source).

And what events he witnesses (and even plays a main role in some of them)! After killing his brother, something which he never ceases to regret, God sentences him to wander the earth (a la the ocean's Flying Dutchman, but without any seven years' chance of redemption, however slim), and in his peregrinations he meets up with no less than Abraham, Joshua, Noah and witnesses the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, among other catastrophic events. Let's face it. He doesn't think much of God, and doesn't mind telling him so. God's opinion of cain is mutual. The unresolvedness of this shared state is at the heart of this story. And their differences of opinion perpetuate to this day.

Certainly the fact that Saramago was an atheist and a libertarian communist colored his weltanschauung. When the Portuguese government censored his book The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, he relocated from his native country to the Canary Islands. Neither did he win a popularity contest with the Catholic Church.

Stylistically, the innovations in this book include paragraphs some running for many pages, commas to divide sentences, rather than periods, a new speaker denoted only by an initial capital letter of a word, names, as I mentioned, are not capitalized, yet some words, such as Mother and Father, are capitalized. At first it seems a bit puzzling, but as one reads on it becomes a flow of sorts, an interior drifting that eventually becomes appealing. I believe that because of these innovations, an intensity is sustained because of the scarcity of breaks (halts) in the narrative.

So here we've got a book by a genius, no doubt. As an allegory, I miss the well-rounded human, and yet reading it is kind of like getting a sock in the teeth. "Take that!" says Saramago.

With pleasure, replies the reader. At least this one.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saramago on the Old Testament, September 5, 2011
This review is from: Cain (Hardcover)
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Jose Saramago , it is safe to say, does not have much use for the god of the Old Testament. In his final novel, where there are no upper-case letters except for the words that start a sentence, he takes the reader on a journey with Cain after he was punished by God to be a wanderer and roam the earth after he killed his brother Abel. Through what the narrator calls "time travelling shifts," Cain is able to be a witness to and often a participant in some of the other events of the Old Testament: the Isaac and Abraham story, the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Joshua at Jericho, the plight of Job and Noah's ark and the Flood.

Saramago with wit and sarcasm fleshes out the Old Testament stories. He reminds the reader that the term "Adam's apple" came about because Mr. Adam got a piece of the forbidden fruit lodged in his throat , the fruit given to him by the "first lady." The narrator declares that "the lord showed a lamentable lack of foresight, because if he really didn't want them to eat that fruit, it would have been easy enough simply not to have planted the tree or to have put it somewhere else or surrounded it with barbed wire."

People at the Tower of Babel, "without the aid of dictionaries or interpreters" are speaking in a confusing number of languages including, "who would have thought it, in portuguese," a nice touch on the part of the author. But he shines in his take on Noah and the Flood. The worker angels, whose task it is to get the ark afloat, relate to Cain just how boring heaven is with all the angels proclaiming the Lord's greatness. "It's high time that these. . . began to experience the simple joys of ordinary people." And if we are to interpret the word "flesh" broadly, shouldn't there be unicorns, the phoenix, the hippogryph, the centaur, the minotaur, the basilisk, the chimera and the donkey included in the roundup of the animals into the ark? (I personally was hoping that at least a pair of dinosaurs would make the cut!)

God is portrayed as vengeful, jealous, wicked; "he doesn't understand us and we don't understand him." When I finished this short novel (150 pages ) by one of the world's great writers, I thought of who would find Saramago's retelling of some of the stories from the Old Testament abominable. Certainly Pat Robertson comes to mind. Robert Frost, however, would love this book since he mused that if God would forgive his little joke on him, then he would certainly forgive God's big joke on him. David Lindsay, the author of the play "Rabbit Hole" would be a fan as well as he lets his character who lost a young son declare that if God just needed another angel, why wouldn't he just make one.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Frightening View of Saramago's God, October 6, 2011
By 
T. Gibert (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Cain (Hardcover)
What do you get when the Book of Genesis mates with everyone's favorite time-traveller, Doctor Who? It's a riddle with many answers, and mine is CAIN.

CAIN narrates the life of the eponymous Biblical persona, beginning with his parents: Adam and Eve have their falling-out with God and begin to make their way in a dusty, sinful world. The author has his fun with this classic story, teasing out the absurdity and emphasizing Adam and Eve's humanity. Adam and Eve wink saucily at each other when God clothes them because, duh, how could they NOT see their nudity?

But nude there were and nude they will be, and Cain and Abel will be born and one of them will die. After Cain slices his brother's throat, God curses him to wander the earth forever. This is where Saramago's talent and his own bitter feelings for the Biblical narrative begin to shine through Cain's wanderings and witnessings. Oh, and this is where it gets a little like Doctor Who.

Cain wanders in and out of the Book of Genesis, in and out of time, and in and out of the lives of our most beloved Biblical stories: Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the Tower of Babel; Noah's ark. Saramago takes the stories we've sung for generations and shows them through Cain's eyes. And what does Cain see? An untrustworthy, confusing, and destructive God who punishes good as evil and wagers with Satan (poor Job scrapes at the wounds on his body with a potsherd).

It is God as Saramago sees Him, and it is terrifying. So Saramago retells the stories as a reasonable, conscientious human might interpret them. He takes great advantage of all the seemingly impossible bits of the Biblical story. If Lot were drunk enough for his daughters to "trick" him into having sex with them, he would have been too drunk to consummate these unions. If Noah's ark were filled with every living creature, how could it float? And who would clean all the excrement of all those animals? If anything, CAIN illustrates why the Bible should still be read and reinterpreted and discussed; it is not black and white. It is nearly magical in the way it holds different things for different people.

Readers, one request: please do not give this book a negative review simply because it is, yes, subversive, yes, blasphemous. Just don't read it. If the blasphemy doesn't bother you, DO READ IT.
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28 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A quick, playful read - but to what end?, September 6, 2011
This review is from: Cain (Hardcover)
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"Cain" is an irreverent retelling/revisioning of several Old Testament tales. Starting in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, the story soon moves on to their progeny and the novel's namesake, Cain. It is primarily from his viewpoint that the rest of the tales are communicated. After murdering his brother, Abel, and finding temporary asylum in Nod, Cain is imbued with a supernatural ability to wander across time and space so that he witnesses a number of hallmark biblical events. The short book, approximately 150 pages, covers various anecdotes in no more than a few pages each (Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac, the Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Moses and the golden calf at Sinai, Joshua at Jericho and the subsequent battles of Ai, and the defeat of the Amorites). Only a couple stories have any notable length (Job's trials at 12 pages and Noah's ark and the subsequent flood at 24 pages). Much of the remainder of the book is set in Nod where Cain experiences the joys of the flesh with the lusty Lilith.

The writing style is minimalist. Proper nouns aren't capitalized. Dialogue frequently runs together without attribution separated only by comma and capital letter. The narration is playfully self-aware. Saramago points out his own anachronistic use of the word "hour" and routinely references modern conveniences in his descriptions and analogies (e.g. pharmaceuticals, hotels, restaurants, films/movies). The pithy work boasts a derisive, perhaps dismissive, tone. Cain questions, or, more correctly, disputes the goodness of the Hebrew god. His criticisms are presented as self-evident. There's no reasoning or philosophizing, just assertion and affirmation. "A good or benevolent god would not behave or act in this fashion, as anyone must see." "Here is one more proof of god's capriciousness and confirmation of his patent unworthiness." The problem with this presentation is that, when confronted with these tales, not everyone reaches the same conclusions. One's extant beliefs or mindset will be scarcely tested or bolstered by the experience of reading "Cain."

So what does this story accomplish? Saramago's intent clearly wasn't didactic but I was hoping for more wisdom and content nonetheless. Those seeking only an entertaining yarn may be completely satisfied (although I do wonder how a work boasting very little substantive originality merits effusive praise). Surely there aren't many readers who turn to Old Testament tales of slaughter to be entertained. Unfortunately Saramago was content to seek cheap laughs rather than provide meaningful or unsettling commentary. Much more could have been done with the material. Conjure in the reader the horror and injustice of being asked to sacrifice one's own son. Impart to the reader a sense of the boredom of singing praise for eternity. Make the reader ache for the "innocents" slaughtered in Sodom, etc. Saramago doesn't even try... which is too bad.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A testament to Saramago, September 13, 2011
This review is from: Cain (Hardcover)
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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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Conversations with God, October 3, 2011
This review is from: Cain (Hardcover)
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"My days will have no end," says Cain in José Saramago's fictional exploration of the Old Testament, and even though we're already almost halfway into the novel by then, it's hard to tell whether these words are a lament, or a bragging point, or simply a statement of fact.

Saramago made a career out of such little gems, such fine wordplay. In 'Cain,' as in all of his novels, he takes a seemingly whimsical "what-if" concept and plays it out. He does so with his signature style, a challenging yet elegant economy of language and a trust in his readers to draw their own conclusions. Saramago is never an easy read - with his page-long paragraphs and his eschewing of standard punctuation, he makes you read and absorb every word. But somehow it works, and the effort is well worth it.

The idea of 'Cain' is ambitious yet simple: a retelling of Biblical Old Testament stories, most of them through the eyes of Cain, the first murderer, who slew his brother Abel in a fit of rage when God showed an arbitrary preference for Abel's offerings. Cain's punishment (or is it a deal struck with God?) is to walk the earth for days without ending, which plays out with Cain traveling forward and back in time, visiting the stories we all know from the Bible...but changing them subtly.

Cain's influence is felt in the tale of Abraham, where it is not an angel's hand that prevents father from slaying son, but Cain's. It is felt in Lilith's bedchamber, where Cain visits frequently as they pleasure each other. It is felt at the Tower of Babel and in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and even at the site where Noah is building his Ark, as he prevents it from being destroyed when the floodwaters come.

Saramago's tale is one that muses on God as a capricious being, meting out judgment and punishment arbitrarily. Cain is witness to God's cruelties throughout history, and again and again he finds the Almighty wanting. When he finally brings his complaints to God himself, the resulting conversation seems pointless, and the book ends on a vague, unsatisfying note, feeling unfinished.

It brings to mind one of Stephen King's better lines, in 'From a Buick 8': "The world rarely finishes its conversations." Cain's wanderings may seem random, but are they really? Saramago's elegant storytelling hides a layer of meaning beneath seemingly random events, and while the denouement may be frustrating, imagine how Cain must feel - already frustrated by a God he doesn't understand and forced to wander through time and space to witness evidence of what he feels again and again. His quest for understanding is his undoing.

Hard to say, now, what Saramago might have wanted to say in 'Cain.' Perhaps, as his final novel, it really was unfinished. Perhaps he had a better ending in mind. Or perhaps, as King observed, he also knows that the big conversations, the ones about right and wrong and life and death, are never finished, and those who seek that final understanding are doomed to eternal frustration.

Cain's words in the novel also hold meaning for Saramago himself. While the writer is no longer with us in body, he has left his words.

And through his words, José Saramago's days will have no end.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Time Traveling with Cain, November 12, 2011
By 
charles peterson (Keller/Fort Worth, Texas) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Cain (Kindle Edition)
Through the eyes of a time traveling Cain, this book provides an alternative perspective to the biblical events of the pre-flood era. It also provides the author's highly critcal view of God.

After expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Cain kills Abel, is cursed by God and becomes a wanderer. His wanderings take him east to the Demon Queen Lilith and then on a rather random tour of the Old Testament incuding Abraham's attempt to sacrifice Isaac, the Tower of Babel, Joshua's battle of Jericho, the destruction of Sodom and Gomarra, the golden calf and a host of other events. Cain's experiences are frequently a bit different than as related by the Bible and by most Judeo-Christian authorities. Without spoiling the story, suffice it to say that Cain's final adventure is very different from the Biblical version.

Saramago's Cain is not a big fan of the Lord. In Cain's/Saramago's eyes God is irrational, vengeful, bloodthirsty, petty and a host of other unfavorable adjectives.

I enjoyed this book, even though Sarmago's writing syle was quite unconventional. Early on, it was difficult to follow, but I quickly found myself actually enjoying it.

Finally, if your religious beliefs are devout, you will almost certainly find this book outrageous and blasphemous. If you are a cynic, or just open minded, you will probably find it at least interesting if not actualy enjoyable.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In the beginning was the mark, October 12, 2011
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This review is from: Cain (Hardcover)
We might expect that people at the age of 87 to be discreet, if not cautious, about the subject of God, but only the fervent servants of faith and the strongly confident atheist would pick a Biblical character and weave him into adventures through the early period of human history according to the Old Testament. This book shows clearly which category Saramago is in. His aim was to analyse the significance of Cain's killing of his brother Abel, and how that act was proof, not only of the duality of God's own nature, but also the ambiguity of man's own. What led Cain to the murder of his brother? Was it his own fallen, evil nature, or was he set up by God? In the process, Saramago makes Cain participate in other major incidents in the Old Testament, including Abraham's attempted murder of his son Isaac, the fall of the Tower of Babel, the battle of Jericho, and most prominently, the family life of Noah and his great mission. Why was Cain, in this account, be interferring with God's plan? The reader is drawn inexorably to reflect on God's intentions in the first place, and whether they were foiled by God's own lack of a clear and thorough planning, incompetence, or by the rebellion of His creation. In the process, the character of God and Cain will be scrutinized in glaring light.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Cain Mutiny, September 27, 2011
By 
Jacques Talbot (Oakland, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Cain (Hardcover)
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This book, the Nobel Laureate's final novel, reminds me of Picasso's openly pornographic late drawings - all pretense is gone, and the work, if not explicitly defiant, almost exudes an air of the artist's disregard for what anyone else might think. For a man who lived and died in a comparatively devout Catholic country, Cain is the work of a man who has nothing to lose and has moved beyond the need for approval or the fear of disapproval.

The central theme of the book is that God is more or less a sociopathic assh*le, and Cain's murder of his brother is explained as Cain's only means of lashing out against an insane, sadistic God, whom he roundly blames for the crime.

It may not be a terribly original notion, but the author explores it with great deadpan humor, using the device of time travel to enable Cain to witness many of the iconic stories of the Old Testament: Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, the fall of Jericho, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Job's travails, and last but not least the story of Noah and the flood. Along the way we meet Adam and Eve, Lilith, a talking mule, Satan, and God Himself. For those of us sympathetic to a spiritual perspective but deeply skeptical about taking the Bible too literally, this book is not only a witty and pleasurable read, it is a pointed and none-too-gentle indictment against the Old Testament's "God of Wrath." Is there a hint of anti-Semitism implicit in such a book? I'm not in a position to say, but clearly the author was a man for whom the pat response that "God works in mysterious ways" was defense that holds no water.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fatwah on Fatheads?, November 26, 2012
By 
Giordano Bruno (Here, There, and Everywhere) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Cain (Paperback)
Don't we all wish that sort of fatwah could be issued? Jose Saramago would surely have been willing to post the bounty money from his Nobel Prize wealth. If the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Rabbi of West Hollywood were as certain of the unique truth of their dogmata, would they not pronounce a fatwah against Saramago and/or call upon their followers to gather all copies of "Cain" to be consumed in a public bonfire? Hey, where's their fervor? This book is a blasphemous satire of the Judeo-Christian origin myths! It's more derisive than Snorri Sturlason's recountings of the Norse myths! It's ten times more scurrilous than Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses"!!!

What's worse, it asserts a serious theological point: "God" is evil by human moral standards. "God" is vainglorious, vengeful, capricious, unreliable, unfair, bloodthirsty, and cruel. We don't need Saramago, obviously, to glean that understanding; a cursory reading of the so-called Old Testament in any translation would be sufficient. What Saramago adds is biting sarcasm and relentless ridicule of the sanctified fatuousness of Judeo-Christian beliefs.

"Cain" was Saramago's last novel. It's not by any standards his best book, but it's still quite wonderful ... if you relish sardonic iconoclasm ... bedtime reading. Saramago's humor was arrogant, intolerant, supercilious. If I were a true Liberal, in the American sense, I might object on behalf of the victim, the sincere believer being savaged so insensitively. As it happens, I'm not a whit nicer than José, which permits me to relish his wit.

Saramago's prose style challenges many of us. His sentences are sprawling parenthetical run-ons. His reluctance to punctuate or capitalize imposes a grievous need to "pay attention" on the reader. Most of his twenty-some novels were written with the same mocking mannerisms. The mockery is always double-edged; Saramago mocks his own pretentiousness so inexorably that we his readers are compelled to acknowledge our own. Still, I wouldn't choose "Cain" as my recommendation for a first encounter with Saramago. It's a philosophical bagatelle in comparison with Death with Interruptions and a narrative one-trick-pony in comparison with The Elephant's Journey.
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Cain
Cain by José Saramago
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