Written by José Saramago Margaret Jull Costa (trans.)
Review by Ann Chamberlin

This is the English edition of the last novel by Portuguese Nobel laureate Jose Saramago, who died in 2010. So while the author was dying, he was writing about a character who cannot die. Cain, after killing his brother Abel, the world’s first murder, is condemned by God to wander the earth, with a mark on his forehead so no one can kill him. He is forced to witness, as surely the author did, atrocity after atrocity as the sad world rolls on. Accompanied by a personable donkey, Cain’s path jerks him backwards and forwards through time and space, from Abraham and Isaac to Sodom and Gomorrah. Just how, Cain begins to wonder, does God get away with condemning him, when the crimes on His head are so numerous, unjustified and no accident? Finally, when faced by the mass extinction of Noah’s Flood, Cain takes matters into his own hands.

Critics comment favorably on uncapitalized proper names, long paragraphs, erratic punctuation as reflecting a search for identity and meaning. Nobel Prize winners, like God, are allowed to play by their own rules in what is more parable than historical fiction.