Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: Cain - Jose Saramago (ARC)

Title: Cain
Author:  Jose Saramago
I Why Read This Book: I was anxious to take a foray into the world of Advanced Reader Copies and try my hand at some reviews for works that I didn’t have any preconceptions about. What a dozie I chose!

Synopsis From Publisher:
In this, his last novel, Saramago daringly reimagines the characters and narratives of the Bible through the story of Cain. Condemned to wander forever after he kills Abel, he is whisked around in time and space. He experiences the almost-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Joshua at the battle of Jericho, Job’s ordeal, and finally Noah’s ark and the Flood. And over and over again Cain encounters an unjust, even cruel God. A startling, beautifully written, and powerful book, in all ways a fitting end to Saramago’s extraordinary career.
My Review :
I had a lot to get past before I realized I actually liked this book. (Full of disinformation as it was.) And I had a lot to accept before I realized I liked this author. (Full of bitterness tho he seems)
Obviously a personal commentary on the perceived absurdity of the Bible, Jose Saramago takes yards of poetic license with each of the biblical happenings he mashes into events that play out in front of and often influenced by our misunderstood protagonist Cain (and chief whinny baby and buck passer).  Reminiscent of how Forest influenced certain cultural and historical events in the work Forrest Gump, Cain wanders the countryside and time itself stumbling upon all the culturally and theologically significant happenings of the era(s).
While not only making fun of religion, putting it in the light of unbelievable ridiculousness, Cain also points out the frailty of the human spirit, with or without monotheism. Portraying God as fallible and cruel and even, as Saramago re-tells  the story of Job, gleefully sadistic.
I’m a Christian and have done Bible Study so I wanted to jump up and down and say ‘No you don’t get it!’ And that’s what I had to get past. But I’m torn on the intent between a) purely anti-religion or b) being satirical towards the overly literal interpretations there are of religion and the Bible. I’d like to think it was the later. I also actually believe that despite his unbelief in God and the Bible, he was certainly well versed in it and DID in fact understand it. You can’t manipulate the intentions that well without knowing what the intentions were in the first place. Just as a good accountant makes the best embezzler. Or so I’ve heard.
 Not without humor, I did find myself chuckling despite myself at times. Ok a LOT of times!! It is very  Monty Python-esque or Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. I kept hearing in my head the narrator in the voice of John Cleese and Cain as a bitter version of Alan Rickman’s Marvin the robot.
Saramago’s writing style is TOTALLY unique  unto itself and it takes awhile to settle into. I had never read any of his works before so at first I thought the text, shy on capitalizations and proper punctuations and choked full of ginormous sentences, was like that just because it was an ARC and not edited yet. But no, after looking up his biography I learned that is just how he writes.  And somewhere along the line I started to truly like it!
Saramago was an Atheist, a pessimist, and a communist. He was also a Nobel Prize winner for literature.  But not for Cain.
While most certainly not for everyone, Cain offers an often graphic look at human nature and our own tendencies to pass the buck of accountability.  Beware if you are easily offended by religious criticisms and there are some pretty graphic  romantic encounters. Read past those ‘knee jerk’ reactions and I think you’ll find a humorous and thought provoking book more on people than on deity.

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