Nos quoque iberi sumus

You throw a large stone into the ocean and the ground under your feet begins to tremble … and the Iberian peninsula snaps off and begins to move away from the rest of Europe: a stone raft. Or you are a woman who picks up a branch and scratches a line in the dirt and immediately the earth trembles … and the Iberian peninsula snaps off and begins to move away from the rest of Europe: a stone raft.

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Cain … it’s not the shark

“The history of mankind is the history of our misunderstandings with god, for he doesn’t understand us, and we don’t understand him.”

CainA few things to note about Cain by José Saramago:  First, it was his last novel; second, the author only felt compelled to capitalize the first word on each sentence with proper names not being giving any of the significance that capitalization might incur. Oh, and the narrative keeps jumping back and forth through time so that the eponymous character, cain, can experience and comment on a great deal of the early “history” as represented by the old testament of the bible. The story starts with cain and abel, has cain run off to the land of nod and cuddle-up with lilith, take a side trip to save issac from abraham only to return to an earlier time when he witnesses god telling sarah she would give birth in her old age and present abraham with a son (who would become issac).

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Typical Saramago?

One of the novels José Saramago wrote before his death in 2010 was a simple book titled, Death With Interruptions. Saramago tends to write novels that develop an often outlandish idea, examining it from all sides and watching where it leads. In Blindness, everyone went blind; in Death With Interruptions, no one dies. But to emphasize that the author is exploring a theme in his book, the absence of death is only in the one unnamed country:  take a dying person to the border and instantaneously they die as they enter the adjacent country. According to the novel, the near-dead are moved across the border-line feet first so they will gradual experience their death.

The premise behind Saramogo’s novel is that a world without death is a disaster. Funeral parlors go out of business; annuities go on forever; life insurance companies disappear under an avalanche of cancellations; and most interesting, the church is in danger of collapsing. After all, without death there is no resurrection and without the promise of resurrection, there is no basis for the christian religion. No death, no church.

Near dead people are warehoused in corridors, woodsheds, and in homes throughout the country, many to be left alone and untreated because they can never die. The population is out of control; the republicans are demanding that the monarchy resign since the king will never die but a president is elected only for a relatively short term; the church is on the verge of complete irrelevancy; the economy is collapsing; a new “maphia” class has arisen to take over the death business for profit; the neighboring countries are becoming unfriendly. Yes, it is a disaster until a mysterious letter is received from a woman who signs her name “death.”

As I wrote in an earlier post, José Saramago is a major author, both in his native Portugal and internationally in translation. I think that too often the Nobel Prize in Literature goes to an author that is either obscure or more highly praised for his contribution to the literature of his country. Saramago deals with universal themes and is a fascinating author in any country where he is read. One of the most important contemporary authors:  his recent death was a great loss to world literature.