Saramago’s final novel before his death, Cain, started out as a clever and humorous alternate view of the biblical Genesis story with a bumbling creator that realizes that he forgot to give the first man and woman speech. After Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, they mischievously continue to pretend they don’t know that they are naked and enjoy the pleasures of their nakedness. After they are banished from the Garden of Eden they don’t know what to do with themselves for they find that they are hopelessly alone until the angel that guards the gates to Eden reveals to the first man and women that they aren’t really the only man and woman that have peopled the earth. As Adam suffers the indignity in finding a job to make a living Eve gives birth to their first child and yet, that first child is suspected as an offspring between Eve and the Angel at the gate to Eden.
All of these events are whimsical and just enough of a satirical twist on the familiar Genesis story that a learned Apologist would enjoy the subtleties of Saramago’s humor. However as the story progresses beyond the beginnings of Adam and Eve’s tale and moves on to the tragedy of their children, Cain and Abel, the cleverness of the humor begins to dry up. The artist diverges into his own reinvention of the character of Cain as an eternal challenger to God’s benevolence and supremacy. After Cain jealously murders his brother for being favored by their creator, God visits Cain, first cursing Cain for his atrocity. However, Cain cunningly convinces God that he is as much at fault for Abel’s death because the all knowing God knew how things would end up and yet he still favored Abel over Cain and thereby did not take any action to prevent Cain from murdering his brother. The bumbling God falls suspect to Cain’s convincing argument and grants Cain the ability to live many years without being harmed by any man.
From here the story of Cain leaps off in several tangents with Cain playing a part in many of the biblical stories of Genesis. At times it appears that Cain is able to travel through time and at times it seams that the plot progression is a play on a dream sequence as Cain serves the Queen Lilith and has a child with her, stops Abraham from sacrificing Issac before the Angel of God does so, witnesses the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and assists Noah in the building of his Ark while ultimately killing Noah and his family as they float across the endless sea.
The more I read Saramago’s Cain the less I liked it. My dislike wasn’t based on any feeling that Saramago was treading sacrilegious or forbidden grounds, I truly enjoyed the first few chapters of Cain with joyful amusement and often found myself audibly laughing at the artist’s playful cleverness. My dislike for this novel was the realization that the cleverness was stunted as the novel developed. What began as satire developed into a smear campaign pointed at the historical and biblical stories of the Judeo-Christian faiths. As I closed the last page of Cain I only felt a sense of sadness for the author’s obvious contempt towards religion because the portrayal of the rewritten relationship between Cain and his creator was a hollow development devoid of hope.