First published in the Portuguese language in 2009
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa in 2011
This was my second attempt at reading this book. The first time, I don’t think I went past the first 20 pages, because the way Saramago had written it was simply too difficult for me to follow at that time. I realised quite early on that I needed to be quite still, mentally and emotionally, to be able to fully understand the flow of the words and phrases on the pages. So this second time when I picked this book up, I had already somewhat prepared myself to dive in and indulge in the prose.
I was not wrong the first time.
First, the structure, or manner, in which Saramago narrated this story was very similar to Blindness. I can’t really recall how Seeing read, but I have my own copy of Blindness with me at home, and simply by glancing through a few pages, I could see that Cain had a very similar storytelling method. Everything felt like it was meshed into one, and if you lost your attention somewhere, you simply had to go back and reread it again. This is not a book that you can meander and wander around. It’s a book that you need to focus to understand. And even then, it’s not guaranteed that you will comprehend fully.
Cain starts with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The story very quickly moves on to tell how they were thrown out of the garden for eating the forbidden fruit, and following that, how they managed to learn to survive in the harsh world of reality, when all this while they had only known the perfect Garden. Cain is born, as is Abel, and after an unfortunate incident which resulted in Cain killing his brother. That’s where the “real” story starts: as Cain wanders around, he constantly finds himself in different “presents”—he doesn’t consider that he’s travelling to the past or the future, it’s merely a different “present”.
The people and events that he meets and comes across are, I would imagine, loosely based on the contents of the Bible. But because I’m not as familiar with the Book as I would like to be, I cannot comment on how much of what is written is really based on the contents of the Bible, and how much is his own interpretation. But I still found it quite intriguing, this constant travel from one time to another, as well as his occasional chats with god.
It’s not an easy book to digest. But well worth the time.