Caín by José Saramago

Originally posted at: A Girl that Likes Books on July 11, 2012


Book Summary (from

In this, his last novel, José Saramago daringly re-imagines 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

My Review

Now, why did it take me so long to finish the book? I mean 9 days! Well…did I mention I moved? I’m sick and tired of this excuse, but is true, the last 2 books I read took me forever, but that’s just because I needed my sleep, badly! But let’s go the reviewing, shall we?

This is the third book I read from Saramago, and I think we can safely say that I like his style. I realize that the absence of paragraphs, the dialogues that are not visually separated, etc, are not for everyone, but I think once you get used to it, you can read it as any other book.

The story starts, not with Cain and Abel, but with Adam and Eve, this is the first time Saramago presents to us his version of god, one that will talk to his creations just as you and I would talk. Then, as most of us know, they get kicked out of Paradise, and after several years Cain, Abel and Seth come to the scene. 

After killing his brother, Cain is punished by god with a mark in his forehead and he is condemned to wander. The trick is that he won’t wonder just around, he will travel “in time” from biblical story to biblical situation. He will fall in love with Lilith, he will stop Abraham before killing his only son and he will be there in Noah’s Ark. 

All through the book, Cain will criticize god, for his acts, his reasoning, etc. He even points out that this god that everyone is following is a jealous god, full of anger and grudges. There is a moment when he is talking with god and the later says:

                “Some deny my existence […] they are out of my law, of my reach, I cannot touch them”.

If it hasn’t been obvious to you by reading his prior books, this should be clear enough. Saramago is quite critical of the image that Catholic Church gives people to believe in. I haven’t read The Gospel according to Jesus Christ but in Death without interruptions you can already see a lot of critics, not only to society itself (also a recurrent theme in his work) but to the church itself.  Through Cain’s voice Saramago even accuses god to be “crazy and without a conscious”

I like the book a lot. I know it doesn’t necessarily show when you consider how long it took me (again people, I needed to sleep!) It was quirky, funny, satirical…it was fun to read, even though I kept feeling my grandma wouldn’t like me enjoying the book so much (she is really attached to the church still).
I loved the following sentence:

Progress […] is inevitable, fatal as death. And life”
Every time that I read one of his books, I end up with a list of sentences that stuck to me, and that’s good, that means (for me) that the book went deeper inside of you than you thought. However, I don’t think it was as good as Death with Interruptions, and that’s why this one is getting one mushroom less. I think is a lovely way to finish an amazing career, short and sweet

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