I made one more quick stop on my world tour before June ended. I was officially in Portugal, home of Nobelist Jose Saramago, but the book took place in the Garden of Eden and then in various lands of some central Biblical tales. I’ve been touring the world with murderous protagonists of late, first Balram and now Cain. I liked this one, too. Perhaps you should be getting concerned about my taste in men!
This was Nobelist José Saramago‘s last novel. He went out with a great one. This book is laugh out loud funny. Depending on your religious leanings, this may not be for you, since the novel has at its core a sense of outrage with the God of the Hebrew Bible. The tale begins in the Garden of Eden, and we quickly know that something is up. The text is very tongue-in-cheek about “the lord” from the start. Here is a little taste of the narrative, from early in the tale, about an incident with which you are undoubtedly already familiar: This episode, which gave rise to the first definition of a hitherto unknown concept, original sin, has never been satisfactorily explained. Firstly, even the most rudimentary of intelligences would have no difficulty in grasping that being properly informed about something is always preferable to being ignorant, especially in such delicate matters as good and evil, which could put anyone at risk, quite unwittingly, of being consigned to eternal damnation in a hell that had not yet been invented. Secondly, 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. Thirdly, it wasn’t because they had obeyed god’s instructions that adam and eve discovered they were naked. They were already stark naked when they went to bed, and if the lord had never noticed such an evident lack of modesty, the fault must lie with a father’s blindness, an apparently incurable infliction that prevents us from seeing that our children are, after all, neither better nor worse than all the others.
Soon, we learn the back story of the murder of Abel and find that the blame is not solely Cain’s. Here his philosophical battle with God commences. Once Cain is condemned to his wandering, he finds himself traveling not only through space, but also through time. He becomes embroiled in a number of Biblical events, among them the golden cow incident at Sinai, the battle of Jericho, the trials of Job, and the condemnation of Sodom. In each of these events, he is offended by the sense of God toying with humankind for His own egotistical purposes.
This is a VERY funny book which takes on the issues of good and evil and of the just use of power. It pokes fun at human nature time and again along the way. José Saramago didn’t lose a bit of his rhetorical skill or his wit at the end. He certainly does not deserve the final judgement he described in Cain, at which everyone will be condemned, either for doing too much or too little. Saramago does just enough. Hopefully the lord will appreciate the critique and spare him.