“Cain” by Jose Saramago, Divinely Inspired Blasphemy

“Cain” by Jose Saramago   (2011) –  159 pages

 Most of you new readers and book bloggers are familiar with Jose Saramago, if at all, through his brilliant fairly recent novel, “Blindness”.  However those of us who have been in the literature-reading rackets for a long time realize that Saramago wrote at least two novels which are even better than “Blindness”.  One is “The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis” which is Saramago’s masterpiece in homage to that Portuguese genius of geniuses, Fernando Pessoa.  The other is “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” which is of course based on the New Testament of the Bible.  In 1969, when ‘Gospel’ was published, the government of Portugal, pressured by the Catholic Church, refused to allow “Gospel” to compete for the European Literary Prize.  At that point Saramago self-exiled himself to the island of Lanzarote in the Spanish Canary islands. 

 “Cain”, Saramago’s last book published posthumously,   is also based on the Bible, this time the book of Genesis in the Old Testament.  You probably recall the story of Cain and Abel, the first two sons of Adam and Eve.  Both sons provide an offering to God.  God accepts Abel’s offering of a killed lamb, but God rejects Cain’s offering of fruits and vegetables.  Then Cain murders Abel out of envy.  But isn’t it terribly arbitrary of God to accept the one offering but reject the other?.  God sentences Cain to wander alone on the earth, and in the atheist Saramago’s novel, Cain shows up at most of the significant events that occur in Genesis including the Tower of  Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham’s offering up of his son Isaac, and Noah and the Great Flood.  In all these places Cain is in a unique position to see and question the arbitrariness of god.    Cain takes every opportunity to point out the injustices caused by God’s harsh judgment.  Thus God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness, killing not only the wicked, but everyone including the little children. 

Quoting from “Cain” itself, here is another fine example of Cain’s sceptical attitude.

“Cain could barely believe what he was seeing.  Burning sodom and gomorrah to the ground had evidently not been enough for the lord, for here, at the foot of mount sinai, was clear irrefutable proof of his wickedness, three thousand men killed simply because he was angered by the creation of a supposed rival in the form of a golden calf.  I killed one brother and the lord punished me, who, I’d like to know, is going to punish the lord for all these deaths, thought cain, Lucifer was quite right when he rebelled against god, and those who say he did so out of envy are wrong, he simply recognized god’s evil nature.”

There is a lot of humor in “Cain” which is told in Saramago’s inimitable folksy style from Cain’s point of view.   Besides entertaining us, one of the main purposes of the novel seems to be to undermine Biblical faith and belief.    Saramago has Noah married to that mythical woman Lilith, and the insatiable Lilith immediately adopts Cain as her sex slave.  Noah, in a jealous rage, gets two men to follow Cain and attempt to murder him.  That’s not in the Bible; that’s blasphemy.

It’s good to have this atheist and towering figure in the literary world, Jose Saramago, stick to his beliefs or un-beliefs up until the very end.  “Cain” is a very enjoyable and fascinating read, a strong novel to end his career.  For religious people, this novel would be the perfect way to test their beliefs, as it makes a strong case for the other side .

2 responses to this post.

  1. Ta bien escrita………..,,,,, le salió mejor que los que escribieron el génesis y el antiguo testamento llenos de innumerables e incontables mitos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Para mí, Saramago es un inspirado por Dios, para mí,Dios es la razón y lógica de todas las cosas!!!!!!!!!!!!.
    Envíame el texto del libro a mi correo, desde ya te expreso mis agradecimientos!!!!!!
    Desde Ecuador, Loja, Pindal, Milagros:
    Noé Moisés Sarango Obaco!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Well written Ta … … … ..,,,,, came out better than those who wrote the old testament genesis and filled with countless and countless myths !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For me, Saramago is inspired by God, to me, God is the reason and logic of all things !!!!!!!!!!!!.
    Send me the text of my e-book from you and express my thanks !!!!!!
    From Ecuador, Loja, El Pinal, Miracles:
    OBAC Sarango Noah Moses!”

    Hello Noe Sarango Obaco,
    I’ll reply in English. I agree, even though Saramago claimed to be an unbeliever, he’s closer to God’s truth than a lot of believers who misrepresent God’s word for their own purposes.


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