José Saramago

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Deep down, I don't create anything. I'm just someone who simply lifts a rock and exposes what's beneath it. It's not my fault that monsters come out some times.

José de Sousa Saramago, GColSE (16 November 192218 June 2010) was a Portuguese novelist, poet, playwright and journalist. In 1995, he won the Camões Prize, and in 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Quotes[edit]

The possibility of the impossible, dreams and illusions, are the subject of my novels.
Our biggest tragedy is not knowing what to do with our lives.
  • From literature to ecology, from the escape velocity of galaxies to the greenhouse effect, from garbage disposal methods to traffic jams, everything is discussed in our world. But the democratic system, as if it were a given fact, untouchable by nature until the end of time, we don't discuss that.
    • Intervention in the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, February of 1992; quoted in Las leyes antidiscriminatorias en el Mercosur: Impactos de la III conferencia mundial contra el racismo, la discriminación racial, la xenofobia y las formas conexas de intolerancia, Durban, 2001: informe sobre el seminario realizado en Montevideo, 29 y 30 de abril de 2002. Published by Organizaciones Mundo Afro, 2002 163 pages.
  • A writer is a man like any other: he dreams. And my dream was to be able to say of this book, when I finished: 'This is a book about Alentejo'.
    • Quoted in José Saramago: il bagaglio dello scrittore‎, page 41, by Giulia Lanciani, published by Bulzoni, 1996 ISBN 8871199332, 9788871199337 (256 pages).
  • Não é a pornografia que é obscena, é a fome que é obscena
  • It is not pornography that is obscene, it is hunger that is obscene.
  • Um dia, sentado à mesa, pensei: E se fôssemos todos cegos? Imediatamente me veio a resposta: Nós somos todos cegos.
    • The question suddenly came into my head, 'And if we were all blind?' And then immediately, as if answering myself, 'But we are all blind.'
    • On the idea for his next novel (Blindness), which came to him while sitting in a restaurant; New York Times interview with Alan Riding (1998), as quoted in Portuguese Literary & Cultural Studies, 6th Edition (Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture, 2001), p. 131.
  • Sometimes I say that writing a novel is the same as constructing a chair: a person must be able to sit in it, to be balanced on it. If I can produce a great chair, even better. But above all I have to make sure that it has four stable feet.
    • Interview with Katherine Vaz, José Saramago, BOMB Magazine, June 2001.
  • Intoxicados mentalmente pela idéia messiânica de um Grande Israel que torne por fim realidade os sonhos expansionistas do sionismo mais radical, contaminados pela monstruosa e arraigada "certeza" de que neste mundo catastrófico e absurdo existe um povo eleito por Deus e, portanto, estão automaticamente justificadas e autorizadas, em nome dos horrores do passado e dos medos de hoje, todas as ações nascidas de um racismo obsessivo, psicológica e patologicamente exclusivista, educados e formados na idéia de que qualquer sofrimento que tenham infligido, inflijam ou venham a infligir aos demais, em especial aos palestinos, sempre será inferior ao que eles padeceram no Holocausto, os judeus arranham sem cessar sua própria ferida para que não deixe de sangrar, para torná-la incurável, e mostram-na ao mundo como se fosse uma bandeira.
    • Intoxicated mentally by the messianic dream of a Greater Israel which will finally achieve the expansionist dreams of the most radical Zionism; contaminated by the monstrous and rooted 'certitude' that in this catastrophic and absurd world there exists a people chosen by God and that, consequently, all the actions of an obsessive, psychological and pathologically exclusivist racism are justified; educated and trained in the idea that any suffering that has been inflicted, or is being inflicted, or will be inflicted on everyone else, especially the Palestinians, will always be inferior to that which they themselves suffered in the Holocaust, the Jews endlessly scratch their own wound to keep it bleeding, to make it incurable, and they show it to the world as if it were a banner.
    • Interview with El País (2002); cited in Princípios (Editora Anita Garibaldi, 2002), p. 88; English translation taken from Phillips The World Turned Upside Down (2010), p. 207.
  • We live in a very peculiar world. Democracy isn't discussed, as if it was taken for granted, as if democracy had taken God's place, who is also not discussed.
    • Quoted in Evans, 2002, p. 13, as reported in Fundamentals of action research, Vol. I (2005), p. 305.
  • [The Jewish people no longer deserves] sympathy for the suffering it went through during the Holocaust. ... Living under the shadows of the Holocaust and willing to be forgiven for anything they do on behalf of what they have suffered seems abusive to me. They didn't learn anything from the suffering of their parents and grandparents.
    • Quoted in News Brief, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, October 15, 2003.
  • The human being should be the absolute priority. It seems it is more important to reach the planet Mars than prevent 13 million Africans dying of hunger. Why would I want to know if there is water on Mars if we are polluting the water here on Earth, or doing nothing to avoid it? Priorities need to be redefined, but there is no chance of this, if we don't confront the need to know what democracy is.
    • Quoted in New African (IC Magazines Limited, 2003), p. 25.
  • Nossa maior tragédia é não saber o que fazer com a vida.
    • Our biggest tragedy is not knowing what to do with our lives.
    • During the opening lecture of the course Literature and power. Lights and shadows, in the University Carlos III in Madrid. As quoted by Marco Aurélio Weissheimer in the article Saramago prega retorno à filosofia para salvar democracia, na Agência Carta Maior. (January 19th, 2004)
  • ...I'm not able to fear death... We will all turn skeletons and everything shall end. The skeleton becomes, therefore, the most radical form of nudity.
  • Yes [death has become a taboo]. Today people want to avoid the subject and hide the deaths that happen around them. It is as if the world were a hotel where the dead usually disappear at night, without any guest being able to notice their presence. While movies and television address death, they do not touch the fundamental point of finitude. The deaths are false, the good guys get shot and come back to life. It's another way of treating death as unreal.
  • I'm not pessimistic. It is the world that is terrible. How can we be optimistic in the face of a planet where people live so badly, nature is being destroyed and the dominant empire is money?
  • O universo não tem notícia da nossa existência.
    • The universe has no news of our existence.
    • Interview with Adelino Gomes, Público, 13 November, 2005.
  • Doesn't anybody understand that killing in the name of God only makes Him a murderer?
    • Interview with Edney Silvestre, 2007.
  • If I could repeat my childhood, I would repeat it exactly as it was, with the poverty, the cold, little food, with the flies and pigs, all that.
    • Interview with Edney Silvestre, 2007.
  • Globalization is a form of totalitarianism... It is the rich who rule, and the poor live as they can.
    • Interview with Edney Silvestre, 2007.
  • I write to try to understand, and because I have nothing better to do.
    • "Efe" report, in Arrecife de Lanzarote (Spain), "Saramago diz que escreve por não ter 'nada melhor para fazer'", published in Folha de São Paulo, 2007.
  • We humans are, at bottom, carriers of the time, because we take it with us, we use it, sometimes we waste it and sometimes something remains, though everything is doomed to oblivion.
  • Eu, no fundo, não invento nada. Sou apenas alguém que se limita a levantar uma pedra e a pôr à vista o que está por baixo. Não é minha culpa se de vez em quando me saem monstros.
    • Deep down, I don't create anything. I'm just someone who simply lifts a rock and exposes what's beneath it. It's not my fault that monsters come out some times.
    • Quoted in the article Literatura: Saramago doutor honoris causa da Universidade Autónoma Madrid. Published by Rádio Mirasado. (March 15th, 2007)
  • Everything is discussed in this world, except for one thing: democracy. Democracy is not discussed. Democracy is there, as a kind of saint, from whom no miracles are expected, but that is there as a reference: "the democracy"; and we don’t notice that the democracy in which we live in is a kidnapped, conditioned and amputated one, because the power of the citizen, the power of each one of us, is limited, in the political sphere, I repeat, in the political sphere, to removing a government that we don’t like and replacing it by another one that we might come to like. Nothing else. But the important decisions are made in another sphere, and we all know which one it is. The great international financial organizations, the IMFs, the World Trade Organizations, the World Banks, the OECD, all of these... None of these institutions is democratic, so how can we continue to talk about democracy, if those who actually govern the world are not democratically elected by the people? Who chooses the countries' representatives in those institutions? Their respective peoples? No. So where is the democracy?
    • Conference at Fórum Social Mundial, December 2007.
  • Deep down, the problem is not a God that does not exist, but the religion that proclaims Him. I denounce religions, all religions, as harmful to Humankind. These are harsh words, but one must say them.
    • Interview to the newspaper "O Globo" (at the time of the release of his latest book, Cain), in 2009.
Death is the inventor of God.
  • To me, the Bible is a book. Important, no doubt, but a book.
    • Interview to the newspaper "O Globo", 2009.
  • I think that we do not deserve life, I think that religions have been and continue to be instruments of domination and death.
    • Interview to the newspaper "O Globo", 2009.
  • There is nothing that is truly free nor democratic enough. Make no mistake, the internet did not come to save the world.
    • Interview with "O Globo", July 2009.
  • I believe that I've been asked all possible questions. I, myself, if I were a journalist, would not know what to ask me.
    • Interview with "O Globo", July 2009.
  • Death is the inventor of God.
    • Interview with "El País", 2009. [1]
  • God, the devil, good, evil, it's all in our heads, not in Heaven or Hell, which we also invented. We do not realize that, having invented God, we immediately became His slaves.
    • Interview with "El País", 2009.
  • There are those who deny me the right to speak of God, because I am not a believer. And I say that I have every right in the world. I want to talk about God because it is a problem that affects all humanity.
    • Interview with "El País", 2009.
  • O pior da morte é que antes estavas e agora não estás.
    • The worst thing about death is that you once were, and now you are not.
    • Interview, O Saramago que conheço, Portal 730, 2010.

Raised from the Ground (1980)[edit]

(Portuguese: Levantado do Chão)
  • Tudo isto pode ser contado doutra maneira.
    • There is another way to speak of all this.
    • Variant: All of this could be told in a different way.

Baltasar and Blimunda (1982)[edit]

(Original title: Memorial do Convento)
Men, forgive Him, for He knows not what He has done.
  • Besides the conversation of women, it is dreams that keep the world in orbit. But dreams also form a diadem of moons, therefore the sky is that splendour inside a man's head, if his head is not, in fact, his own unique sky.

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (1991)[edit]

(Portuguese: O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo)
  • ...Jesus slowly turned to look at her and said, I have never been with a woman. Mary held his hands, This is how everyone has to begin, men who have never known a woman, women who have never known a man, until the day comes for the one who knows to teach the one who does not.
    • p. 235
  • Remembering the river of blood and suffering that would flow from his side and flood the entire earth, he called out to the open sky where God could be seen smiling, Men, forgive Him, for He knows not what He has done.
    • p. 347; Jesus' last words from the cross.

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (1993)[edit]

(Portuguese: O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis)
  • Perhaps it is the language that chooses the writers it needs, making use of them so that each might express a tiny part of what it is.
    • p. 47

The Stone Raft (1994)[edit]

(Portuguese: A Jangada de Pedra)
  • The possibility of the impossible, dreams and illusions, are the subject of my novels.
    • Introduction
  • So often we need a whole lifetime in order to change our life, we think a great deal, weigh things up and vacillate, then we go back to the beginning, we think and think, we displace ourselves on the tracks of time with a circular movement, like those clouds of dust, dead leaves, debris, that have no strength for anything more, better by far that we should live in a land of hurricanes.

Cadernos de Lanzarote (1994)[edit]

  • Privatize-se tudo, privatize-se o mar e o céu, privatize-se a água e o ar, privatize-se a justiça e a lei, privatize-se a nuvem que passa, privatize-se o sonho, sobretudo se for diurno e de olhos abertos. E finalmente, para florão e remate de tanto privatizar, privatizem-se os Estados, entregue-se por uma vez a exploração deles a empresas privadas, mediante concurso internacional. Aí se encontra a salvação do mundo... e, já agora, privatize-se também a puta que os pariu a todos.
    • Privatize everything, privatize the sea and the sky, privatize the water and the air, privatize justice and the law, privatize the passing cloud, privatize the dream, especially if it's during the day and open eyed. And finally, for the embellishment of so many privatizations, privatize the States, surrender once and for all their exploitation to private companies through international share offering. There lies the salvation of the world... and, while you're at it, privatize your whore mothers.
    • Diary III, p. 148.

Blindness (1995)[edit]

Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are.
(Original title: Ensaio sobre a Cegueira)
  • Some drivers have already got out of their cars, prepared to push the stranded vehicle to a spot where it will not hold up the traffic, they beat furiously on the closed windows, the man inside turns his head in their direction, first to one side then to the other, he is clearly shouting something, to judge by the movements of his mouth he appears to be repeating some words, no one word but three, as turns out to be the case when someone finally manages to open the door, I am blind.
    • p. 2
  • That night the blind man dreamt that he was blind.
  • Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are.
    • p. 126
  • Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.
    • p. 276
  • Blind people do not need a name, I am my voice, nothing else matters.
    • p. 290

All the Names (1997)[edit]

(Portuguese: Todos os Nomes (1997); tr. Margaret Jull Costa, London: The Harvill Press, 1999, ISBN 0151004218)
  • You know the name you were given,
    You do not know the name you have
    • "The book of certainties"
  • No life is without its lies.
    • p. 172
  • when you are old and realize that time is running out, you start imagining that you have the cure for all the ills of the world in your hand, and get frustrated because no one pays you any attention,
    • p. 172
  • In order to protect the physical hygiene and mental health of the living, we usually bury the dead.
    • p. 181
  • What the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve over.
    • p. 185
  • That it’s possible not to see a lie even when it’s in front of us.
    • p. 210
  • The distribution of tasks among the various employees follows a simple rule, which is that the duty of the members of each category is to do as much work as they possibly can, so that only a small part of that work need be passed to the category above. This means that the clerks are obliged to work without cease from morning to night, whereas the senior clerks do so only now and then, the deputies very rarely, and the Registrar almost never.
    • p. 2
  • The caressing, melodious tones of humility and flattery never sang in the ears of the clerk Senhor José, these have never had a place in the chromatic scale of feelings normally shown to him.
  • [...], indeed nothing so tires a person as having to struggle, not with himself, but with an abstraction.
  • None of his colleagues noticed who had arrived, they responded to his greetings as they always did, Good morning, Senhor José, they said and they did not know to whom they were speaking.
  • [...], perhaps that's how you learn, by answering questions.
  • No, there are three people in a marriage, there's the woman, there's the man, and there's what I call the third person, the most important, the person who is composed of the man and woman together.
    • The woman in the ground floor flat
  • Consciences keep silence more often than they should, that's why laws were created.
    • The Registrar
  • The bread was dry and hard, only a scraping of butter was left, he was out of milk, all he had was some rather mediocre coffee, as we know, a man who had never found a woman who would love him enough to agree to join him in this hovel, such a man, apart from rare exceptions which have no place in this story, will never be more than a poor devil, it's odd that we always say poor devil and never poor god, [...]
  • [...] the skin is only what we want others to see of us, underneath it not even we know who we are, [...]
    • Senhor José's ceiling
  • [...], old photographs are very deceiving, they give us the illusion that we are alive in them, and it's not true, the person we are looking at no longer exists, and if that person could see us, he or she would not recognise him or herself in us, Who's that looking at me so sadly, he or she would say.

Nobel Lecture (1998)[edit]

How Characters Became the Masters and the Author Their Apprentice. (Portuguese: De como a Personagem Foi Mestre e o Autor Seu Aprendiz.) Nobel Lecture (December 7, 1998).
  • The wisest man I ever knew in my whole life could not read or write. At four o'clock in the morning, when the promise of a new day still lingered over French lands, he got up from his pallet and left for the fields, taking to pasture the half-dozen pigs whose fertility nourished him and his wife...
    • Referring to his grandfather, Jerónimo Meirinho.
  • As I could not and did not aspire to venture beyond my little plot of cultivated land, all I had left was the possibility of digging down, underneath, towards the roots. My own but also the world's, if I can be allowed such an immoderate ambition.

Nobel Banquet Speech[edit]

José Saramago's speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1998.
  • The multinational and pluricontinental companies whose power — absolutely non-democratic — reduce to next to nothing what is left of the ideal of democracy. We citizens are not fulfilling our duties either. Let us think that no human rights will exist without symmetry of the duties that correspond to them. It is not to be expected that governments in the next 50 years will do it. Let us common citizens therefore speak up.

The Cave (2001)[edit]

(Portuguese: A Caverna (2001); tr. Margaret Jull Costa, Vintage, 2003; Harvest, 2002, ISBN 0151004145)
  • The young have the ability, but lack the wisdom, and the old have the wisdom, but lack the ability.
    • p. 4 (Vintage 2003)
  • He got out of the van to see how many other suppliers were ahead of him and thus calculate, more or less accurately, how long he would have to wait. He was number thirteen, he counted again, no, there was no doubt about it. Although he was not a suspirations person, he knew about that number’s bad reputation, in any conversation about chance, fate or destiny, someone always chips in with some real-life experience of the negative, even fatal influence of the number thirteen. He tried to remember if he had ever been in this place in the queue before, but the long and the short of it was that either it had never happened or else he had simply forgotten. he got annoyed with himself, it was nonsense, utterly absurd to worry about something that has no real existence, yes, that was right, he had never thought of that before, numbers don’t really exist, things couldn’t care less what number we give them, its all the same to them if we say they’re number thirteen or number forty-four, we can conclude, at the very least, that they do not even notice the position they happen to end up in. people aren’t things, people always want to be in first place,
    • p. 9 (Vintage 2003)
  • Destiny isn’t taken in by people trying to make what came first come afterwards.
    • p. 12 (Vintage 2003)
  • There comes a point when the confused or abused person hears a voice saying in his head, Oh well, might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, and, depending on the particular situation in which he finds him he either spends his last bit of money on a lottery ticket, or places on the gaming table the watch he inherited from his father and silver cigarette case that was a gift from his mother, or bets everything he has on red even though he knows that red has come up five times in a row,
    • p. 14 (Vintage 2003)
  • Even the strongest spirits have the moments of irresistible weakness,
    • p. 15 (Vintage 2003)
  • We would know far more about life’s complexities if we applied ourselves to the close study of its contradictions instead of wasting so much time on similarities and connections, which should anyway, be self-explanatory.
    • p. 15 (Vintage 2003)
  • There is relationship between sight and touch, something about eyes being able to see through the fingers touching the clay, about fingers being able to feel what the eyes are seeing without the fingers actually touching it.
    • p. 20 (Vintage 2003)
  • Earthenware is like people, it needs to be well treated.
    • p. 21 (Vintage 2003)
  • The only time we can talk about death is while we’re alive, not afterwards.
    • p. 22 (Vintage 2003)
  • A vida é assim, está cheia de palavras que não valem a pena, ou que valeram e já não valem, cada uma que ainda formos dizendo tirará o lugar a outra mais merecedora, que o seria não tanto por si mesma, mas pelas consequências de tê-la dito.
    • Life is like that, full of words that are not worth saying or that were worth saying once but not any more, each word that we utter will take up the space of another more deserving word not deserving in its own right, but because of the possible consequences of saying it.
    • p. 28 (Vintage 2003)
  • I don’t doubt that a man can live perfectly well on his own, but I’m convinced that he begins to die as soon as he closes the door of his house behind him.
    • p. 29 (Vintage 2003)
  • He spent the whole time sitting on a log in the woodshed, sometimes starting straight ahead with the fixity of a blind man who knows that even if he turns his head in the other direction he will still not see anything,
    • p. 30 (Vintage 2003)
  • At this time of life even a day makes a difference, the only saving grace is that sometimes things improve.
    • p. 43 (Vintage 2003)
  • Where do begin, he asked, Where you always have to begin, at the beginning,
    • p. 53 (Vintage 2003)
  • Authoritarian, paralyzing, circular, occasionally elliptical, stock phrases, also jocularly referred to as nuggets of wisdom, are malignant plague, one of the very worst ever to ravage the earth. We say to the confused, Know thyself, as if knowing yourself was not the fifth and most difficult of human arithmetical operations, we say to the apathetic, Where there’s a will , there’s a way , as if the brute realities of the world did not amuse themselves each day by turning that phrase on its head, we say to the indecisive, Begin at the beginning, as if that beginning were the clearly visible point of a loosely wound thread and that all we had to do was to keep pulling until we reached the other end
    • p. 54 (Vintage 2003)
  • The beginning is never the clear , precise end of a thread, the beginning is a long, painfully slow process that requires time and patience in order to find out in which direction it is heading, a process that feels its way along the path ahead like a blind man the beginning is just the beginning, what came before is night on worthless.
    • p. 54 (Vintage 2003)
  • Encyclopedias are like immutable cycloramas , prodigious projectors whose reels have got stuck and which show, with a kind of maniacal fixity, a landscape which , because it is condemned to be only and for all eternity what it was, will at the same time grow older more decrepit and more unnecessary.The encyclopedia purchased by Cipriano Algor's father is magnificent and as useless as a line of poetry we cannot quite remember.
    • p. 57 (Vintage 2003)
  • (a picture of)a naked woman, although she was covering her pubis with her right hand and her breasts with her left._ _ _ _ covering yourself up like that is worse than showing everything,
    • pp. 58–59 (Vintage 2003)
  • You can learn almost everything from reading, But I read too, So you must know something, Now I’m not so sure, You’ll have to read differently then, How, The same method doesn’t work for everyone, each person has to invent his or her own, whichever suits them best, some people spend their entire lives reading but never get beyond reading the words on the page, they don’t understand that the words are merely stepping stones placed across a fast-flowing river, and the reason they’re there is so that we can reach the farther shore, it’s the other side that matters, Unless, Unless what, Unless those river don’t just have two shores but many, unless each reader is his or own shore, and that shore is the only shore worth reaching,
    • p. 60 (Vintage 2003)
  • In general, fakirs, like scribes and potters, are sitting down, when he’s standing up, a fakir is just like an other man, and sitting down, he’ll be smaller than the others,
    • p. 60 (Vintage 2003)
  • The day before is what we bring to the day we're actually living through, life is a matter of carrying along all those days-before just as someone might carry stones, and when we can no longer cope with the load, the work is done.
    • Page 61, 2002 (Harvest Hardcover edition)
  • ... because contrary to what people say, two weaknesses don't make for a still greater weakness, but for renewed strength ...
  • Very few people are aware that in each of our fingers, located somewhere between the firs phalange, the mesophalange and the metaphalange, there is a tiny brain. [...] It should be noted that fingers are without brains, these develop gradually with the passage of time and with the help of what the eyes see…. That is why the fingers have always excelled at uncovering what is concealed.
    • p. 64 (Vintage 2003)
  • Each part in itself constitutes the whole to which it belongs.
    • p. 68 (Vintage 2003)
  • Age carries with it a double load of guilt,
    • p. 69 (Vintage 2003)
  • The emptiness of old age had caused him to forget that, in matters of feeling and of the heart, too much is always better than too little.
    • p. 69 (Vintage 2003)
  • He felt very tired, not from the mental effort, but because he had suddenly seen what the world was like, how there are many lies and truths,
    • p. 73 (Vintage 2003)
  • After all, we are always on time, behind time, in time, but never out of time, no matter how often we are told that we are.
    • p. 73 (Vintage 2003)
  • Don’t quibble with the king over pears, let him eat the ripe ones and give you the green ones.
    • p. 78 (Vintage 2003)
  • It’s is the old who age a day every hour,
    • p. 85 (Vintage 2003)
  • The best way to killing a rose is to force it open when it is still only the promise of a bud.
    • p. 89 (Vintage 2003)
  • Every thing in life is a uniform; the only time our bodies are truly in civilian dress is when we’re naked.
    • p. 92 (Vintage 2003)
  • Creating is always so much more stimulating than destroying.
    • p. 107 (Vintage 2003)
  • Lord knows why they depict death with wings when death is everywhere.
    • p. 112 (Vintage 2003)
  • Time is a master of ceremonies who always ends up putting us in our rightful place, we advance, stop and retreat according to his orders, our mistake lies in imagination that we can catch him out.
    • p. 115 (Vintage 2003)
  • Human nature is, by definition, a talkative one, imprudent, indiscreet, gossipy, incapable of closing its mouth and keeping it closed.
    • p.117(vintage 2003)

The Double (2002)[edit]

(Original title: O Homem Duplicado)
  • [T]here are times when it is best to be content with what one has, so as not to lose everything.
  • Worse still if that sameness should ever become total.

Cain (2009)[edit]

(Portuguese: Caim; English translation by Margaret Jull Costa)
Without pausing, [abraham] took up his knife in order to sacrifice the poor boy and was just about to slit his throat when he felt a hand grip his arm and heard a voice in his ear shouting, What are you doing, you wretch, killing your own son...
  • In short, as well as being as big a son of a bitch as the lord, abraham was a consummate liar, ready to deceive anyone with his forked tongue, which in this case, according to the personal dictionary belonging to the narrator of this story, means treacherous, perfidious, false, disloyal and other similarly fine qualities. When he reached the place of which the lord had spoken, abraham built an alter and placed the wood on it. He then tied up his son and lifted him on to the altar, on top of the wood. Without pausing, he took up his knife in order to sacrifice the poor boy and was just about to slit his throat when he felt a hand grip his arm and heard a voice in his ear shouting, What are you doing, you wretch, killing your own son, burning him, it's the same old story it starts with a lamb and ends with the murder of the very person you should love most, But the lord told me to do it, said abraham, struggling, Keep still, or I'll be the one who does the killing, untie that boy at once, then kneel down and beg his forgiveness, Who are you. My name is cain, I'm the angel who saved isaac's life. This isn't true, cain is no angel, that title belongs to the being who has just landed with a great flapping of wings and who is now declaiming like an actor who has finally heard his cue, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, nor do anything to him, for now I know that thou fearest the lord, being prepared, for love of him, to sacrifice even your only son, You're late, said cain, the only reason isaac isn't dead is because I stepped in to prevent it. The angel looked suitably contrite, I'm terribly sorry to be late, but it really wasn't my fault, I was on my way here when I developed a mechanical problem in my right wing it was out of synch with the left one, and the result was that I got completely turned around, in fact I wasn't even sure I would get here, and given that no one had told me which of these mountains had been chosen as the place of sacrifice, it's a miracle I arrived at all, You're late, said cain again, Better late than never, replied the angel smugly, as if he had uttered a great truth, That's where you're wrong, never is not the opposite of late, the opposite of late is too late, retorted cain. The angel muttered, Oh, no, a rationalist, and since he had nor yet completed the mission with which he had been charged, he rattled off the rest of his message, This is what the lord commanded me to say: since you were capable of doing this and did not withhold your own son, I swear by my good name that I will bless you and multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand upon the seashore and they will possess the gates of his enemies, and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed because you have obeyed my voice, the word of the lord, That, for those who don't know it or pretend to ignore it, is the lord's double accounting system, said cain, whereby one man can win and the other not lose, apart from that, I don't see why all the people of the earth will be blessed just because abraham obeyed a stupid order, That is what we in heaven call due obedience, said the angel.
    • pp. 69-71.


Misattributed[edit]

  • Ah, who will write the history of what might have been?
    • This line does appear in Saramago's book, The Stone Raft (1986), p. 9, but the author was, in fact, quoting the poet Álvaro de Campos, one of Fernando Pessoa's heteronyms.

Quotes about Saramago[edit]

External links[edit]

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