(Current fiction and quality fiction of the past.)
Quality bookstores in Albuquerque have stocked copies of the novel “Cain” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by the late Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago, his last contribution to contemporary literature. There’s one copy of “Cain” in the Albuquerque public library system and five more on order. In all, the library has about 30 copies of books by Saramago, many in Spanish.
Examiner particularly liked the Guardian’s description in London July 15 of José Saramago’s final novel. Wrote the Guardian: “José Saramago’s final novel turns the Old Testament into a shaggy dog story.”
In Examiner’s many reviews of the Nobel laureate’s writing, Examiner has always tried to call the reader’s attention to the way Saramago tells a story – he winks at you as he writes.
Of “Cain” the publisher says: “In this, his last novel, Saramago daringly re-imagines 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.”
Selected as Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for October 2011, Mia Lipman wrote: “In his final slim novel, the late José Saramago gives a cheeky modernist update to a timeworn biblical tale. After killing his brother Abel in an exasperated rage, Cain makes a deal with a CEO-like God and escapes with little more than a donkey and a few snacks, doomed to nomadic immortality. As he wanders through time and space, the handsome itinerant interferes with the dealings of a familiar cast of characters — Noah, Moses, Isaac — forever altering the course of legend along the way. Deeply flawed and all too human, despite the eternal life granted him, Cain also struggles openly with the idea of faith in the face of an equally flawed God. By turns philosophical and hilarious, ‘Cain’ shows off the scope of Saramago’s talent and makes a fitting coda for a superlative writing life.” — Copyright © Amazon
Examiner notes that “The Elephant’s Journey” (Examiner) also had quite a bit of winking in it. The work is a reflection on feelings of “compassionate solidarity,” according to a published email from Saramago’s home on the Canary Island of Lanzarote. The tale is filled with the irony, sarcasm and humor typical of Saramago, his Spanish wife and translator, Pilar del Rio, wrote on the author’s website. The work follows the rules that the author sets for all his books, she added. “Dialogues alternate with narrative to form a whole, which the reader has to sort out according to his or her own rhythm.”
“The Elephant’s Journey” is indeed as described in El Paίs (Spain): “A triumph of language, imagination, and humor.” The Examiner adds that the playfulness of the narrative should not distract from the truth, that this is a marvelous, epic contribution to contemporary literature. There’s a chuckle in every turn of the story.
Saramago was the author of 30 books, many of them novels, among them “Blindness,” “All the Names,” “Baltasar and Blimunda,” and “The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis.”
Of note: Last May Houghton Mifflin Harcourt′s Trade and Reference Division published “Small Memories,” the early life memoir of the José Saramago. The book came out just a month before the one–year anniversary of the author′s death. It is highly recommended.
The Guardian concluded its review of “Cain”: “During his lifetime, Saramago was routinely referred to as a genius. According to Harold Bloom, he is ‘a permanent part of the western canon.’ (Bloom is blessed with an eternal perspective.) In awarding Saramago the Nobel prize in literature in 1998, the Swedish Academy declared that he was a novelist ‘who, with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony, continually enables us once again to apprehend an illusory reality.’ Alas, for writers there is no ‘continually.’ There is only occasionally.”
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