Book Review: Cain by Jose Saramago

( #Cain, #JoseSaramago )

I picked this book up by chance the other day and knocked it out before I found a reason not to read it. Yes, “Cain” is about the guy who killed his brother (the first murder), but the book moves past that pretty quickly. Essentially, author Jose Saramago uses Cain to be an unbiased witness of all of God’s “divine acts of justice” during the old testament.

Saramago kind of absolves Cain from murdering his brother by establishing God as the antagonizer of the initial conflict. God accepts some responsibility for the situation but lays down a curse where Cain is thrown around time in a non-linear fashion (think “The Time Traveler’s Wife”). Cain then witnesses God’s old school greatest hits: Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac, God’s wager with the devil regarding Job, Jericho, and ending with the Noah’s great flood.

While Cain is not necessarily a heroic character, he is by default the character you are rooting for. Jose Saramago’s old testament God is nothing short of a colossal asshole: petty, jealous, and out of touch. Most of the “devout” heroes of religious lore are cast and moronic sheep that will blindly follow the Lord’s orders without any thought to the consequences. As Cain sees each act, he becomes more disgusted with God until their final confrontation at the end of the book.

Even with a bit of leeway due to the source material, there are some plot holes that the reader just has to roll over. Saramago doesn’t do a great job at the start of the book explaining the curse and the fact that Cain is being tossed around in time. I don’t have my biblical chronology memorized, so it took me a while to figure out what was happening. Also he spends a few pages talking about how the “mark of Cain” will be a great hindrance in his dealings with people, but it never is.

Those comments aside, I found myself enjoying “Cain”. The book has a fast pace – not lingering on any subject too long (which suits my reading tastes well). Jose Saramago handles the religious materials well and manages to conclude the book with a twist which was much appreciated. If you consider yourself a good God-fearing Christian, this book will probably offend you. If you grew up with bible stories, don’t get offended easily, and think old testament God was a bit of a dick, you will probably enjoy this book.

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