This is one of the super-overpriced books I acquired in Livraria Lello during my vacation in Portugal. It was described as one of must-see things in Porto and granted there was a queue, but with it being a bookstore there’s no queue long enough… I’m sure it would be a lovely experience to browse the shelves if not for the hordes of people, I’d happily stay in a longer queue if they decided to introduce some sort of crowd management. Be it as it may the bookstore is cute, but small so it was mobbed, there was no chance to look at anything in peace. I could not leave without a book though, and not being familiar at all with Portuguese literature I opted for a classic and got two books by José Saramago: Cain and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. I started with Cain for purely practical reasons, it was thinner and I didn’t feel like reading a long book. Cain is Saramago’s last book, so you may say that I am starting at the end.
Cain is an atheist’s view on some of the events in the Old Testament. You may also call it a last rant of an old atheist, both descriptions hold. It is worth adding that Saramago also has a sense of humour. He starts with Adam and Eve in paradise and a mistake that God makes, by forgetting to give his humans the gift of speech, so basically from the first page we know that God will not be a very godly figure. I think scenes in the Paradise are the funniest part of the book. Then Cain appears and then the know thing happens, but after that Cain talks to God and makes him take part of the blame for Abel’s death. From here on Cain travels through times and places becoming a witness of some of the most important events in the Old Testament, he is our eyes and ears and at the same time he is judging God. Because why for once the tables shouldn’t be turned? And it isn’t a gentle judgement, even if it feels like just one at times.
Ever since reading Abraham’s and Isaac’s story I had some problems with God’s notion of justice and the way he chose to test people’s faith. If you are God why would you feel this constant need of confirmation that people believe in you and love you more than anything, it seems a bit petty. And to force a father to sacrifice his son is just cruel, not to mention Job’s story, which basically is a rigged bet in which a family is used as pawns. I see now I’m starting on a rant of my own, so let me stop here and just say I loved the ending and the trick Cain pulls on God.
Is it a brilliant book? I wouldn’t say so it is quite superficial, it didn’t tell me anything that would not cross my mind earlier, apart maybe from the ending. Was it fun to read? Yes, definitely. However, I do hope that The Gospel According to Jesus Christ carries a bit more weight.
Quotes from Cain
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska