“Caim” em destaque na Publishers Weekly

“Caim” foi considerado um dos livros do ano pela Publishers Weekly:

fjsLeading up to the November 7th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2011, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

Oh, José, ye, the teller of paragraphs spanning eight pages. Tell me a story, an old, old story, about the man named Cain, who murdered his brother and was condemned by God to wander out his days.

Even if Bible stories aren’t your thing, don’t be afraid of Cain, Saramago’s 150 page yarn–which reads like he’s freestyling a bedtime story and functions as a time-traveling picaresque. In this retelling, Cain doesn’t end up in the land of Nod, he finds himself stumbling upon a greatest hits of Bible tales, including the near-killing of Isaac by Abraham, the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the battle at Jericho, Job’s ordeal and the Great Flood.

Liberties are taken with the scripture; characters speak colloquially (“I don’t like the look of you or the mark on your forehead.”), the authorial voice intrudes (“Not wishing to overload the story with unnecessary historical detail, we will not describe the modest menu, whose ingredients, at least in some cases, we would be unable to identify.”) and Cain changes the Biblical stories we all know with his presence. Cain is at its best in these moments, when Saramago departs most drastically from his source material.

The center of the book is the relationship between God and Cain, who get in an argument every time they see each other. A representative passage (the dialogue is done without any formatting and no names are capitalized):

The lord looked very hard at cain and said, That mark on your forehead has grown bigger, it looks like a black sun rising up above the horizon of your eyes, Bravo, cried cain, applauding, I had no idea you went in for poetry.

Saramago presents Cain as a victim and God as a mistake-prone, distracted architect (“The lord, however, did not change his mind, his calculations might be wrong, but as long as no one else had checked them, he still had the benefit of the doubt.”). It’s clear in these moments that Saramago is having fun with his story, taking these two (and, to a lesser extent, others in the book) out of the general idea we all have of them and coloring them as characters. In short, he turns symbols into people, which, particularly in the case of God, is a pretty impressive feat.

Cain is an odd book. It’s even odder that this curio is the book that closes Saramago’s career. While it strays far enough from scripture to ruffle some feathers, it still maintains a satirist’s closeness to telling the original story. Saramago prods and pokes with varying degrees of vehemence, but there’s also clearly an affection in him for the Bible, otherwise he wouldn’t take the time to get all of the principal facts down for his book’s foundation. But what, exactly, Saramago wants you to get from his slim final novel isn’t quite clear. This is a good thing. The last pages are wonderfully final yet haunting and evocative, and one couldn’t imagine a legend going out in a better way.

Fonte: Publishers Weekly


José Saramago Goes Back to Genesis

God is a petulant, small-minded tyrant in José Saramago’s final novel. Its protagonist, Cain, isfjs sympathetic, a picaresque hero. But that description may give the wrong idea by implying ponderous qualities indicated by the phrase “village atheist.” Like that other largehearted, blasphemous comedian, Mark Twain, Saramago takes an alert interest in actual villages, and in the various villages of the mind. He perceives those literal and figurative human settlements as horrifying yet funny, a perspective that is the opposite of provincial.

As in his earlier novel “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” (a book that led to a kind of self-exile from Portugal to the Canary Islands), Saramago transforms the familiar stories boldly, but with an intricate respect for their power and for the mysterious power of storytelling itself. Far from merely inverting the biblical tales or turning them inside out, he folds and refolds them in a prismatic, shadowy light. Always implicit is the question of what these stories and their retellings mean to us, and about us.

In a grieving but marveling spirit, Saramago remakes, from Cain’s viewpoint, not only the story of Cain and his parents and his brother but also — with Cain entering each narrative as a time-traveling participant — the tales of Abraham and Isaac, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife, Lot and his daughters, Noah and his sons. The narrative veers drastically away from tradition and back toward it and then away again with radical aplomb. The effect is sometimes comic, but with a complex, outraged commitment far beyond parody. Comedy and boundless complexity: Saramago’s novels have been called parables, but they are not allegories.

Profound moral questions alternate with deadpan intrusions of mock-naïve common sense, a well-timed colloquial counterpoint that also recalls Twain (and survives in Margaret Jull Costa’s effective translation). For example: “Yes, you read correctly, the lord ordered abraham to sacrifice his own son, and he did so as naturally as if he were asking for a glass of water to slake his thirst, which means it was a deep-seated habit of his.” Saramago continues: “The logical, natural and simply human response would have been for abraham to tell the lord” to get lost. (The translator uses a more pungent English expression.) “But that isn’t what happened.”

Underlying such moments of comic plain speech is the charity of a skeptic who in a certain way loves his neighbor — and not under pressure of divine reward or punishment but from something more neighborly, a conviction that we disappointing children of Adam and Eve share a predicament and, along with our awful ways, a few decent, generous moments. This understanding — in many senses of the word — is Saramago’s alternative to charity as something commanded by an inscrutable Lord. As the narrator says when Cain has witnessed the destruction of the tower of Babel (“which the lord, out of pride, would not allow to be completed”), “The history of mankind is the history of our misunderstandings with god, for he doesn’t understand us, and we don’t understand him.”

Saramago’s Cain is a flawed Everyman, driven by survival, by ordinary decency and ordinary meanness, by sexual appetite. He impregnates the wives of Noah’s sons — an important incident, since that makes us the descendants of a fratricidal and adulterous progenitor, an understandable ancestry, Saramago might observe. Clearly less Christian than Marxist (Saramago was a member of the Portuguese Communist Party) and more tragic than Marxist, this wry generosity seems partly based on a born storyteller’s fascination with the moral aspects of his craft.

Masters of narrative have the power to expose the act of fabrication without invalidating the work: sublime puppeteers like Austen or Nabokov smiling at the audience above their creations, addressing the reader or discussing what they know or need to suppose about the puppets and their stage. Sometimes it’s done with backspin, as when Dante says he hesitated to say he saw a body walking along holding its severed head — but what can he do, he really saw it?

Such gestures of acknowledgment that the story is a made thing, far from diminishing our commitment to a tale, somehow increase it. We crave more of the story, and we crave it all the more because a glimpse of the sorcerer’s workshop confirms that we are in the hands of a master. Narrative — all art — is mysterious, and the storyteller’s confidence crowns the mystery. When, after the ejection from Eden, Adam complains to the angel barring him and Eve with a flaming sword, Saramago slips in a little joke on his own writing (and perhaps on writing itself):

“We’ll be dead in no time, said adam, no one has ever taught me how to do anything. I can’t dig or work the land because I have no hoe and no plough and if I had, I would have to learn how to use them and there’s no one in this desert to teach me, we would be better off as the dust we came from, with no will and no desire, You speak like a book, said the angel, and adam felt pleased to have spoken like a book, he who had never studied.”

This passage illustrates Saramago’s idiosyncratic way of presenting dialogue, running the speakers together without indentations or quotation marks, the change of speakers indicated by initial capital letters. Another way of recognizing the artifice of telling, with its typographical reminder that all these voices come from one authorial mind, the run-on dialogue also enlists the reader as collaborator, identifying the voices of characters for that split second of judgment.

The malign, self-satisfied deity of “Cain” and of “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ,” to which this book is a coda, resembles the disembodied, cruel government of Saramago’s masterpiece of terror, “Blindness.” Godlike in the worst sense of the word, the bureaucracy in that novel is unreadable and unreachable. God and the heartless bureaucracy are in effect the same. In this regard, Saramago’s work suggests a resolution of the dispute about Franz Kafka’s writing, between those who see the dilemmas of his characters as metaphysical and those who want “Kafkaesque” to have political meaning.

It feels to me as though Saramago, who died in June of 2010 at the age of 87, knew that “Cain” would be his last book. A sad urgency in it reminds me of the last image in Akira Kurosawa’s late film “Ran” (translated as “madness” or “chaos”), a retelling of “King Lear.” In Kurosawa’s film, a blind youth gropes along at the brim of a precipice after horrendous scenes of war. Kurosawa’s image feels, among other things, like an old man’s warning to humanity that it is on the brink of calamity.

Saramago closes his novel with a dark joke that may convey a similar warning. Cain, our homicidal ancestor, argues with God about the possibility of a new human race, and whether there will be one. Cain killed Abel, the novel has said earlier, “because he could not kill the lord.” Now, in the final telling, they contend, two voices of the author, who closes with a final word that puts an end to things:

“Then cain said, Now you can kill me, No, I can’t, the word of god cannot be taken back, you will die a natural death on the empty earth, and the carrion birds will devour your flesh, Yes, once you have devoured my spirit. God’s answer went unheard, and what cain said next was lost too, but it seems likely that they argued with each other on many other occasions, and one thing we know for certain is that they continued to argue and are arguing still. The story, though, is over, there will be nothing more to tell.”

Robert Pinsky’s most recent book is “Selected Poems.”
Sunday Book Review, New York Times


fjsIt is common enough to liken novelists creating their characters to the Genesis story of God making man. Like God, novelists scratch together a pile of dust – in their case the cloudy detritus thrown up when tattered inspiration collides with writer’s block – and attempt to blow it into life.

The Portuguese novelist José Saramago, who died last year at 87, was particularly godlike with his characters. Not only did he create them, but he interposed himself continually, sending them on outlandish though oddly sensible errands, and admonishing or encouraging them with a skeptical impatience softened by wit.

In “Cain,’’ his last, posthumously published novel, God himself is a principal character. Saramago, a militant atheist, drives hard against Him. It is the Old Testament God (In “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ,’’ published 20 years ago, it was the God of the New Testament), and Saramago writes Him as a bloodily capricious tyrant. Even here, unable to avoid amused indulgence, he makes Him a bumbler as well.

Isaac Bashevis Singer once complained that when God made man he failed to use the best materials. In “Cain’’ it is the other way around: man, (Saramago) creating God, makes a point of using imperfect materials.

Before getting to Cain, Saramago writes of God’s problems with Adam and Eve. Having forgotten to give them voices, He has to come back to provide them. He returns a second time to give them belly buttons, which he’d also forgotten, and is particularly pleased with the gracefulness of Eve’s. “This was the last time the lord looked upon his work and saw that it was good,’’ Saramago continues, preparing his sardonic chronicle of vindictiveness as the thread running through the Old Testament.

Expelled to the desert, neither Adam nor Eve has the slightest idea how to survive. Adam, Saramago’s typical male (bureaucratically deferential to higher authority), opposes Eve’s proposal to go back and persuade the angel with the fiery sword to let them have a little fruit. Eve, Saramago’s typical woman (neither bureaucratic nor deferential), goes anyway, and cajoles food and useful angelic advice about making a living.

Skip to Cain. Jealous of Abel because his burnt offering of meat found God’s favor while his own offering of grain did not, he kills his brother. But when God wrathfully decrees he must henceforth wander, reviled, he argues back. Partly his fault, perhaps, but why didn’t God stop it? Unused to defiance, God concedes he has a point; to compensate, He bestows upon Cain a mark that will keep him safe through his enforced wanderings.

Up to here “Cain,’’ though something of a forced conceit, displays some of Saramago’s talent for writing paradox that is both outrageous and winning. Argument is his strength, a quietly witty and expansive device that his characters use with themselves and others; argument as a self-propelled vehicle that takes them adventuring. And this first part is essentially Saramagan argument: Adam’s, Eve’s and Cain’s with God and with each other.

But once Cain begins his wanderings – essentially time travels through a succession of celebrated Bible stories that take up the rest of the book – things decline sharply. To put it plainly, in this last book the aged author seems to have lost some of his transforming magic, and perhaps even his interest in his principal character; also a measure of control. The episodes succeed each other mechanically, with Cain’s role being to witness and denounce God’s actions as cruel, arbitrary, and often incompetent as well.

Cain watches Abraham preparing to slay his beloved son Isaac at God’s behest. At the last minute he grabs the father’s arm to stop it. Only then does the angel arrive with the divine counter-order, apologizing that a problem with a wing made him late.

What follows – the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt, the trials of Job – are treated cursorily. Whereas the massacres by God’s chosen people, the Israelites, of their enemies, drags on and on in the mind-numbing detail we find in the sloggier reaches of the Old Testament.

By the time we get to the last episode featuring Noah and Cain’s lethal sabotage of God’s plan to create an improved post-flood humanity, “Cain,’’ unlike the Ark, has pretty much sunk. At the end, though, a couple of sentences almost rekindle Saramago’s flame. Our last glimpse: God and Cain fade out, still arguing. In Saramago’s fiction – astonishingly tender for a writer who in his nonliterary life held such intransigent views; a hardline Stalinist, no less – God by no means gets the best lines, but he does get lines.

Richard Eder

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This