In this metaphysical and surrealistic novel, Saramago transforms Plato's Allegory of the Cave into a contemporary novel about Cipriano Algor, a man in his sixties who lives in a small village, where he practices his trade as a potter. Living in tune with nature as he digs clay from the earth, works it with his hands, and fires it in an old, family-owned kiln, Cipriano suddenly finds himself without a livelihood when a mysterious and all-powerful Center rejects his real pottery in favor of longer-lasting plastic. And when Cipriano's real life in his small village is also sacrificed for a totally controlled life in an apartment in the Center, Saramago vividly illustrates how the shadows of artificial things are often mistaken for reality in contemporary society, which does not favor "inquisitive ones," searching for life's essence.
Despite the novel's allegorical structure and didactic message, Saramago creates warm characters who inspire the belief that the good, kind, and sensitive souls of the world can survive, and perhaps triumph on some level. Love and family matter here, despite Cipriano's belief that he is "merely the largest of the bits of clay [in the yard], a small dry clod that will crumble with the slightest pressure." Though he is a molder of clay, he recognizes that there are also forces being exerted on him.
Filled with meditations on literature, reading, the creative process, experimentation, and individuality, the novel is both intellectually exciting and very challenging. Unfortunately, Saramago's style is more daunting than his message. Omitting all quotation marks, question marks, and the conventions of paragraphing and sentence structure, he challenges the reader to distill the reality of his message from the shadows of his style.
Dialogue involving three characters, internal comments on the dialogue by the author, shifts in point of view (even including the dog's view, on occasion), in addition to the on-going developing action, often take place within a single, page-long sentence. Page after page of unbroken, gray type give the reader little "breathing room" and often require rereading, a process reminiscent of Cipriano's working in his pottery and reworking his clay to get it right. Readers considering this book will want to take the time to look up Plato's Allegory of the Cave (many copies of which are available on-line) in order to appreciate its intricacies fully. Mary Whipple
Jose Saramago is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I consider his novel Blindness to be one of the best novels I've read in the past five years. The Cave only continues the growth of my respect for him.
I often find when I read one of Saramago's novels that I am reminded of other authors I enjoy. Blindness reminds me of The Plague by Camus and The Cave reminds me of The Castle by Kafka. I don't know if this is Saramago's intention. Perhaps I am reading too much into things. But Saramago is not writing lesser version of old stories. He always has a unique take and, if anything, his stories are more accessible.
In The Cave there are two key locations--the village where the main character, Cipriano Algor, works in his traditional pottery, and The Center. The Center is an ultra-modern complex of living and shopping whose residents never need to leave. Even though most of the action takes place at the village, it is The Center that is the focus of the majority of attention. It dominates the landscape both literally and figuratively. Cipriano sells his wares there and has no control over if and what the bureaucrats of The Center will buy. When his dishes are no longer wanted, he tries to sell ceramic dolls. When these are not a success, he moves to The Center with his daughter and son-in-law but, after an eerie discovery, they leave The Center forever.
And yet, Saramago is not creating an allegory of traditional vs. modern. He is telling the story of people. In his unique style of long paragraphs with little punctuation, he creates a number of very vivid characters--not only Cipriano but also his daughter, Marta; son-in-law, Marcal; and the widow, Isaura. Even the dog, Found, is a brilliant creation with a will of his own.
Admittedly, I don't believe I have plumbed the depths of this novel. The meaning of the discovery at The Center that inspires them to run away is a bit of a mystery to me. But I like a story that leaves me something to chew on. This is a novel I will come back to and read again. Saramago is that rare author who writes books worth re-reading.
This one is different. First, there's the writing style. Forget punctuation. Forget paragraphs. Forget chapter headings. Saramago's prose comes at you like packets of bits and bytes down a fiber pipe. Think Rushdie on steroids. Next, there's Algor Cipriano, the potter. Our introduction to him begins with Algor's ramblings; some are spoken; others are not. His thoughts mold our view of Algor. He is 64, widowed, with a married daughter. He is independent, hard working, loyal and noble. He is a man you can like. But, Algor's worker peasant ways are the old ways. More and more people are moving to high rises in the New Town. The swank population there prefers mass produced items over hand-made pottery. Algor is rapidly becoming obsolete, useless, old. He has two choices: retire to the New Town where he can live in a tiny apartment with his daughter and son-in-law or re-mold himself into something more marketable. His struggle is profoundly moving. He knows that he must change, keep up with modern times, but wait. Wait. As he gets a closer look at the new town Center, he is convinced that the new way is false. It's a trap. Why would anyone want to live in a high-rise cubit---a cave---even if it does have 500 cable channels, a slick Micro-wave oven, simulated rain forest, and an indoor ski jump? The new town residents, in Algor's estimation, are not seeing reality. They are dupes, consumed by consumerism. The Cave is not a pretty tale, but it is one where you'll enjoy the spelunking.
on June 25, 2004
I would just like to comment on one or two aspects of Saramago's The Cave, which I adored. I had just read Blindness--a brilliant book, certainly, but so bleak and cruel (in these cruel times, when the news constantly comments on brutal rapes, torture and inhumanity, the bleakness was even more hard to take!) so I was a bit hesitant to read The Cave. However, as a ceramist and teacher of ceramics history, I was completely enchanted by the detailed descriptions of the workings of the old pottery. Saramago truly understands the work of country or small-scale potteries. The fact that the once-common product of small-scale manufacturers has all-but disappeared from our lives contributes, no doubt, to the confusion that met many readers (perhaps they are like the consumers in The Centre, who preferred plastic to hand made earthenware?) Ceramics, clay and pottery are used throughout as metaphors--as strong as any other metaphors and as legitimate. Even if you do not understand or find interesting all of the details on pottery production, the sensitivity with which the emotional lives of the family members are described is incredibly tender and engaging. I found no difficulty with the style--it was very easy to fall into and follow, if you responded to the emotional states of the characters. And, for me, one of the best parts of all was the luminous dog, Found, whose thoughts and unconditional love provided humour and a very positive aspect of the book (countering the bleakness of Blindness.) Some readers did not like the diversions, but I found them wonderful--the use of language, the multiple ideas played with by the author made reading the book more like having a rich conversation with a closer friend. I loved it!
on December 30, 2003
The story starts out in a simple fashion, Cipriano Algor, a widower in his sixties and a potter by trade, is on the verge of losing his livelihood. He lives with his daughter, Marta, and his son-in-law, Marcal, who is a security guard at the Centre, a huge complex in the city where people live, work, and most importantly shop and consume without ever having to go outside. For quite awhile the Centre had been Cipriano's only buyer of his earthenware crafts, their contract with him demanding that he sell to the Centre exclusively, and then one day his contract is abruptly cancelled. At the same time, his son-in-law is expecting a promotion to resident guard which would involve leaving the pottery and moving the family into the Centre, but even so Cipriano and Marta make a last attempt to save the pottery from extinction. More than just a story about aging, or traditional ways versus modern life, the suspense builds throughout this short novel as the reader is drawn into the lives and feelings of very realistic human beings..
The close to nature life of the village and the globalized Centre are in total contrast and the drive from the village to the Centre is unforgettable, first passing the so-called green belt where nothing is green (and the insides of the strawberries grown there are white), then through the industrial belt, then the shanty town where the poor live, then through the city itself to the impenetrable fortress called the Centre. Consumers are barraged with advertising slogans and expect to find everything (or a copy of everything) that can be bought from anywhere in the world as well as every imaginable form of entertainment including a casino, a racing track for cars, a beach with waves - even sensations, like being in a tornado, or a blizzard can be experienced inside the Centre. Most of the apartments in the Centre do not even have windows that look out, many of the residents prefer a view of the inside of the Centre itself, and half the dwellings have no windows at all.
I had never before heard of Plato's story of the cave, but I have learned about it since finishing this novel and once seen the connection is striking, just the way the people in the cave are able to see only shadows on the wall which they mistake for reality, so the people in the center see and experience only artificial life, all in all quite a comment on global capitalism. This was my fourth book by Jose Saramago and once again I am struck by his slow and subtle but very powerful style as a writer.
on April 9, 2004
I know, those who love Saramago unconditionally will be upset at this assessment, but this book could easily have been a short story or novella and got the same points across while being more to the point and powerful.
I guess coming straight off Blindness, which, to me, is one of the best books ever written, this one just came up short (or long, actually).
Also, and everyone has commented on this aspect of the book, but glowingly, the comment on modern capitalism and the contrast between the center and the potter are making points so OBVIOUS that they almost make no point at all. Capitalism bad. Little guy good. It's that simple. I think he could've been a little more subtle.
I will say, I loved the character development and the idea of the "Center" (although, like I said, it's significance was painfully overt). What I didn't like was the ending, because I think it was cryptic for its own sake and didn't make the rest of the story add up.
Jose Saramago is a demanding, difficult, and immensely rewarding writer. He seems to have endless access to metaphors for the human condition in the time in which he writes. While his stories are not complex in surface content - these are tales that are about people coping with life as it is in this time - they are told with a technique that requires much concentration from the reader. He refuses to use quotation marks or even sentence breaks, creating extended pages of dialogue that become frustratingly confusing to the rapid scanner/reader. Exploring Saramago requires time, thought, and introspection to appreciate the journey on which he takes us.
THE CAVE adresses the homogenization of life globally as current technology strips the world of the individual's creativity, family unit, concept of homeland, conventional marriage and relationships, and poetry of the unique. In place of these we have Centers (terrifyingly close to our myriad Shopping Malls across the world that all house the same stores selling the same goods to the brainwashed public) and a seemingly dark landscape of untended remnants of what we once knew as civilization and history. Sound familiar? Well that is where Saramago places his novels, in that Kafkaesque netherland which appears to be daily encroaching our planet. Yet his characters are drawn with such tenderness ( a craftsman potter, his daughter and her husband, a wandering dog they name Found, and a sweet widow who shares the simplicity of courting and tenderness with the potter)that belief in love and values are in safe hands. The gradual dissolution of the potter's craft of making things unique, from the land, bludgeoned by the Practical Preference for Plastic, and the accompanying move from the beauty of the country home by the kiln and Mulberry tree to the sterility of the police state Center and the devastating effect this has on this simple family unity is basically the story here. But it is the gripping surprise at the end of this novel -the epiphany of Plato - that makes reading this book so rewarding.
Saramago is a brilliant thinker and craftsman but he is definitely not for the casual reader of simple fiction. This is a combination of philosphy and literature that demands much from the reader. The rewards, however, far outweigh the time-consuming work!
on February 3, 2007
"The Cave" by Nobel Prize winning writer Jose Saramago deals with family closeness and anonymous, implacable bureaucracy.
The story is about a close family of a widowed father, Cipriano Algor, living with his married daughter, Marta and her husband Marcal. Father and daughter run a traditional, old-fashioned pottery business in a country village. Marcal works as a security guard in The Centre, which also buys products from the pottery. The book begins when The Centre unexpectedly cancels its crockery orders from the pottery. Father and daughter get a reprieve when The Centre agrees to test consumer interest in new figurines that Marta convinces her reluctant father to make.
Looming over everything is the all-powerful, implacable Centre. The Centre is a huge complex of apartments, shops and entertainment facilities, where residents are supervised and spied upon by security staff. There are rules and arbitrary decisions.
Marcal will get an apartment in The Centre allocated to him when his expected promotion comes through. He and Marta want Cipriano to come to live with them and close down the failing pottery. Cipriano is reluctant to accept that times have moved on and traditional crafts like his pottery are becoming a thing of the past. His reluctance to move is complicated by a developing, but fragile, relationship between Cipriano and the widow Isaura Estudiosa.
Marta and Cipriano can almost read each other's minds. Each one is constantly in the other's thoughts. Their care and love for each other is very moving. When Marta prepares food for the family, it is almost a sacred expression of her love. It is not seen as either the subjugation of women; or as a thankless chore grudgingly performed as cooking is often seen in "sophisticated" urban societies - if it is even done at all. A lost dog, Found, attaches itself to the family and becomes an acute and much-loved observer.
Marcal is almost an outsider to this relationship at first, but he comes to share fully in its inclusiveness as the book unfolds.
The loving, caring, supportive family contrasts vividly with the uncaring, authoritarian and unpredictable Centre. But ultimately the human spirit triumphs over the Kafka-like Centre and its soul-less bureaucrats. Here Saramago deals with themes that will be familiar to readers of his other books.
Another theme deals with the destruction of traditional ways by modernism and its impact on those deemed "surplus to requirements." Cipriano almost despairs when his whole life, his craftsmanship and his honest work are dismissed by The Centre as no longer relevant, and even contemptible. He feels that his life is over, so why let his love for Isaura develop. Better to put it aside as the foolish thoughts of an old man.
The style and language are extremely simple - as are the other books by Saramago that I have reviewed (Blindness, Seeing). The book is written as virtually a continuous narrative, with minimal punctuation. Reading it requires some concentration. This technique forces the reader to slow down and absorb the text.
on January 29, 2003
Cipriano Algor, un alfarero de 64 años de edad, se vería sumergido en una depresión increíble al enterarse que sus trabajos de alfarería no tendrían más cabida en el Centro porque la gente ya no los compra. El encargado le diría que la gente prefiere comprar implementos descartables cuya limpieza no les demande tiempo y que, además, sean baratos.
Cipriano regresa a casa donde vivía con su hija, Marta, y su yerno Marcial Gacho. No podía creer lo que acababa de escuchar, y cae sumido en la tristeza más profunda porque la profesión que había aprendido de sus antepasados había quedado obsoleta para el mundo moderno. No era sólo eso, las consecuencias serían peores ya que su único medio de ingreso era la producción de utensilios de mesa con arcilla ... ahora moriría de hambre.
El centro simboliza para Saramago la Globalización que lo succiona todo y enriquece a los acaudalados y emprobrece aún más a los que ya no tienen que llevarse a la boca. La novela toma un nuevo rumbo cuando Marcial Gacho acepta una oferta de residir dentro del Centro y se lleva con él a Cipriano y a su esposa. Una vez tomado posición se le encomienda a Marcial la temeraria tarea de vigilar un extraño hallazgo encontrado durante las excavaciones realizadas durante la construcción del Centro. El desenlace sería más que inesperado al darse cuenta que aquel hallazgo les indicaría que ellos también estaban siendo succionados por el Centro (la Globalización). Es por eso que deciden huir a un lugar alejado de la modernidad y en donde podrían ser libres.
Saramago muestra su ya conocida oposición a la política actual y sobre todo a la Globalización que a veces parece ir absorviendo de a pocos a los países más pequeños so pretexto de proporcionarles tecnología. La pregunta es si a estos países pequeños les será posible huir de la fuerza avasalladora de las grandes potencias o es que en realidad están obligadas a seguir subyugados bajo el chantaje que les imponen el poder económico y militar?.
on February 19, 2012
THE CAVE is the second of Jose Saramago's novels that I've read (the first of which was probably his best known, Blindness), and now that I've been able to compare the two, and seen that his reliance on unconventional usage and stylistic tics is consistent in each, I feel I'm on solid ground when I say that if you have not liked Saramago's work before, then I wouldn't hold out much hope that THE CAVE will appeal to you either. On the other hand, if, after noting Saramago's odd distaste for quotation marks to delineate speech, or periods to denote the end of a sentence, or even indention to signify a new speaker during dialog interchanges, you felt that these and other quirks were no matter, or perhaps even magnified the author's overall effectiveness, then there is at least a chance that the larger themes of THE CAVE may also resonate with you.
I feel that it's important to start out by talking about Saramago's style. Judging by reader reviews - which often cite his punctuation preferences and his discursive, clause-dominated, rambling prose as the reason - Saramago's books are, for some, simply dead on arrival. In these cases, any merit inherent in his allegorical novels is neither here nor there, as the reader is likely to be too distracted for the ideas to penetrate, or he will not stay with the book long enough for them to appear. Personally, I enjoy the author's style - I think it is challenging and forces me to pay closer attention to the text, which in turn generates more involvement than is usual for me. That others may not feel the same is a matter of taste, not discernment, although I do think Saramago's particular eccentricities do lend his story a certain power, and that even those who dislike the method may still benefit from trudging through to the end.
Where Saramago excels, at least from what I've seen, is in his ability to present us with characters that continually unfold over the course of the book - rarely static and adding layer after layer as the story progresses. So, regardless of whether it is superficially an event-driven narrative, such as BLINDNESS, or more introspective, as in THE CAVE, neither one is so much about what happens next as they are concerned with fully representing their actors, which allows the author then to impart his viewpoint. In this particular case, the main character, Cipriano Algor, along with his daughter and son-in-law, consider the changes that life brings to them when they are confronted with the opportunity - supposedly a golden one - of leaving behind their ancestral home and moving into the all-encompassing arms of 'The Center', a cyclopean labyrinth of apartments, shops and attractions. Taking place in an undefined future that comes across as on the verge of totalitarianism (with the hierarchy in control of The Center holding much of the power), Cipriano and his family will eventually have to choose between the shadow games of The Center and uncertain reality.
As I said, I'm partial to Saramago's unique style - in the end, I think it adds to the narrative by eliciting nuances that might not be achievable any other way - and I also enjoy his characters, but in this case I don't think the allegory behind THE CAVE is significant enough to warrant the full Saramago treatment. Overall, I liked reading about these people - they are pleasant, and their flaws are minimal, and quite clearly we are meant to like them. They are also salt of the earth archetypes - Cipriano is a potter, and the novel begins with The Center - the economic powerhouse that contractually buys his crockery - severing their relationship. Much of the middle of the book consists of Cipriano and his daughter Marta struggling to keep their pottery business relevant, even though Marta's husband, Marçal, is up for a promotion, which will entitle them all to the luxury and worry-free life of an apartment in The Center.
I don't think it's too far-fetched to see THE CAVE as a denunciation of globalization and infatuation with material things. Saramago's elliptical wording slightly obscures this at first - it seems that it must be more complex than that. Yet by the time I got to the last sentence, it took on the aspect of an O. Henry or Roald Dahl short story - one designed around the surprise value of the situation - and all that had come before looked more and more like a smoke screen created to conceal the irony of the ending. The careful character development begins to look like manipulation: Most readers would identify with the potter and his family, rather than Marçal's parents, crass opportunists whose only desire is to be chained to the delights of The Center, and circumstances are presented so that most readers will probably look favorably on Cipriano's final decisions.
Whereas BLINDNESS was a powerful comment on the human condition, THE CAVE is weaker, flirting with silliness at its conclusion. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that THE CAVE is for Saramago completists only, I do feel neutral about it - I wouldn't recommend it as a starting point for those new to this author, yet it won't keep me from reading more of him myself. Not without its highlights, but overall disappointing, especially when compared with what I've read of his before.