The cave

by José Saramago

Other authorsMargaret Jull Costa (Translator)
Hardcover, 2002





New York : Harcourt, Inc., c2002.


Informed that his clay pots and jugs are no longer needed, elderly potter Cipriano applies his craft to the making of ceramic dolls, but his family's subsequent successes are compromised by a terrible discovery.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Dawnrookey
One reviewer mentioned how "slow" the book reads in comparison to Saramago's other works. Stylistically, the "slowness" of the novel helps relate the overwhelming message of the dangers of living in a culture distracted by the illusions of instant gratification-- a green belt that ironically isn't green, strawberries that are lovely but taste like cardboard, plastic cups over clay cups made by a craftsman. I relished the slowness of this novel, and it's reminder that faster isn't better, that what we trade for what's quick, what's cheap, what's easy is merely an illusion-- the shadow on the wall. What is real demands your attention, possess authenticity, takes work, and produces an undeniable satisfaction, much like the reading of this book. The choice the principle character, Cipriano, must make in this novel is heroic: whether to live in the cave created by an out-of-control culture of consumption and profit and accept the shadows on the wall and the shackles on his feet or to walk away and live authentically, to slow down, to live simply. This book has staying power unlike his others because it shouts of the dangers we are all living in the Walmartitization of the world. His others are at times shocking, compelling, and also speaks of man's inhumanity to man and worthwhile reading, but this one is his best. The most artful; the most meaningful. It is not the sort of read you can just "let slip by you." Saramago's style in itself is a challenge and the work is nuanced throughout. It is a book that demands your ultimate presence when reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member Clara53
In this novel, with cautious probing and subtle sarcasm, so characteristic of his writing, Jose Saramago explores the perils of modernization and so-called "progress". Apart from his down-to-earth wisdom, it's his style of writing that stands out - if there ever was a unique style it's his; reading his book is like an exercise in concentration at times: almost page-long sentences, with narrative and dialogue all one homogeneous whole; yet it never becomes boring. I must also complement the translator - it's not an easy task to translate this kind of writing, and yet the result is excellent. In this book, I have but one regret: while the relationship between the old potter and his daughter and son-in-law is quite vivid, his attachment (from incipient to full-blown) to the widow is less convincing... Very worthy book nevertheless. One of my favorite quotes: "We have to live with what is, not with what could be or might have been."… (more)
LibraryThing member lucybrown
In a modern day world which may or may not be Portugal, Cipriano, an aging potter, a man who was the son of a potter and who had worked alongside his wife at the family pottery and trained his daughter in the craft, has found that the world no longer has need of his craft and its serviceable wares. For years he has been selling his pottery to a mega-corporation called "The Centre“, a sprawling city within a city which daily eats away at the old city. One day he is abruptly told that The Centre will no longer be buying anymore of his pottery to sell at their stores. He has a moment of hope when he and his daughter conceive the idea of making pottery figurines. They scour an aged set of encyclopaedias to find pictures of people who might serves as models for the figures. For the most part, their choices, which include a Mandarin, are as anachronistic as the potter himself. Miraculously The Centre decides to buy some of the figures, then, decides not to. With no hope of continuing his family's traditional occupation, Cipriano agrees to move into one of The Centre’s apartments, a dwelling coveted by many, but dreaded by the potter. Here in this completely controlled technological paradise, that is if you don't mind that the windows can't be opened, Cipriano explores all the Centre has to offer. Inside its walls are playing fields, shops, restaurants, and entertainment including places which simulate being at the beach or in a storm. Cipriano is less than amused.

This meaningless life continues until Cipriano and his son-in-law see what they were not supposed to see.
From this point life at The Center has become intolerable. All Cipriano's fears of the future are realized and he flees this artificial life.

For all its philosophic underpinnings, the title should clue you into those, its outrage against a modern world which further alienates men from natural society and the nature itself and outrage against blind, acccepting consumerism and the mega-companies which exploit it, this is a book about love and family. It quietly showcases one of the most beautiful father-daughter relationships I have ever encountered in fiction or otherwise. The difficult and awkward relationship between Cipriano and his son-in-law is also beautifully developed, and possibly one of the best things about this book.

The books structure is meandering and loose. It isn't so much about the plot which is outlined in the synopsis of the book on its back cover, as about the people. This is no surprise. No matter how inventive Saramago's plots maybe, the heart of his books is the people. And love and its power to save us. Rich ideas, rich in love, this is a book I can't get out of my mind.

And there is a love story to boot. Widowed Cipriano hesitantly considers taking another stab at love.

And there is a dog. A lost dog adopted by Cipriano and named Found. For all that Cipriano loses, this book is more about what he and his loved ones find as a consequence of the losses.

Saramago is justly considered by many to be the world's greatest writer.
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LibraryThing member Cygnus555
It's hard to convey how good this book is. After reading it, you feel that any writing you would do to describe it would come up wanting. José is not one for short sentences; be prepared to pay full attention to this novel. It is outstanding and beautiful.
LibraryThing member laughingcrane
In my book, this book falls far short of its author's attempt to handle decaying civilization through the eyes of a small, struggling, grey-blue collar family. Big government and bigger business, written as an incomprehensible and pervasive fog of illicit power, drive these rather shallow characters into a pre-ordained wilderness where future indiscernible prospects can be only worse than present damning circumstances. Uncharactistically, I finished this book to see how it ended, not to see how well it ended.… (more)
LibraryThing member John
Good literature should make you think...and by that definition, this is a very fine novel. In case one misses the evocativeness of the title of the book, Saramago has a quote from Plato at the beginning:

What a strange scene you describe and what strange prisoners. They are just like us.

In the allegory of the cave, Plato argues that it is enormously difficult, psychologically, to call the world into question, but that there are ethical dimensions in failing to do so. The prisoners in the cave, who mistake shadows for reality, must accept that their lives have been unreal before they can acquire a deeper knowledge about fundamental truths. They must disregard knowledge obtained from their own senses to discover the truth, and this can require a shocking demonstration that it is true. The allegory issues a challenge: in what way are we living our lives, resting content with our knowledge, satisfied with diminished prospects, failing even to ask the right questions. The key is education, but as Plato says:

Education takes for granted that sight is there but that it isn't turned the right way or where it ought to look, and it tries to redirect it appropriately.

All of this plays into the novel which tells the story of a potter, Cipriano Algor, his daughter Marta who is married to Marcal Gacho (who is a guard at the "Center"), a dog called Found (who is exactly that), and a woman named Isaura (who lives in the same village as the others and becomes Cipriano's partner at the end of the book). The society is strange: Cipriano and the others live in a poor village, and to take Marcal to work at the Center, Cipriano drives through areas known as the Green Belt (massive greenhouse operations under dark plastic), followed by the Industrial Sector (baleful descriptions of dark, depressing industrial structures), and the Settlements (very poor shantytowns that encroach upon the road and are periodically pushed back by the security forces, and which are continually demolished on the fringes as the city and the Center continue to expand). The Center is a massive complex that is completely self-contained though open to the public for shopping and entertainment, dedicated to commercialism, and includes residences for employees and all manner of artificial lakes, beaches, jungles, etc, etc; it sounds very much like the West Edmonton Mall on steroids. Saramago spends very little time on the society itself, and almost no one else figures in the story. There is mention of highjackers on the road to the Centre, from the shantytown, but Cipriano himself is never bothered. Cipriano had supplied pottery to the Centre, but it was decided that this was no longer commercially viable. He tries his hand at clay figurines, with the help of Marta and Marcal, and is quite excited with the prospects, but these also have no commercial appeal for the Center. Faced with the inevitable, Cipriano has no choice but to move with Marcal and Marta into a small apartment in the Center when Marcal is promoted as a security guard. Initially apprehensive, Cipriano seems to be taking to the Center as he explores what it has to offer in terms of sensory experiences (real snowstorms, trips through the jungle, etc), but then comes the discovery in excavations under the Center that throws everything off: Plato's Cave, complete with the mummified remains of the prisoners and the scorched area of the bonfire. As Cipriano says, in explaining the allegory to Marta, and echoing Socrates: "Those people are us...they are us, me, you, Marcal, the whole Center, probably the whole world". Even Marcal (who develops a lot as a character) had begun to have misgivings about his job and living in the Center, and the discovery of the Cave is the last straw for him as well. Cipriano leaves first, returns to the village and the love of Isaura, followed shortly by Marcal and Marta, and the novel ends with the four of them setting off in the truck for places unknown and no secure future, but secure in their love for each other, and the recognition that whatever the future may hold, it will at least be real to them and not the artificiality of the Center that had governed their lives for so long. As the height of that artificiality, Marcal notes that the Center has a poster on its walls: Coming soon, public opening of Plato's Cave, an exclusive attraction, unique in the world, buy your ticket now.

This is a fine novel about the images that shape our lives and which we take as reality, but which may in fact be false and lead us into false conclusions, actions, decisions.
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LibraryThing member zhyatt
A beautiful piece of work, truly heartfelt and touching; my only complaint is that Saramago's writing style is difficult to get used to (very long paragraphs, minimalist use of punctuation).

The story follows potter Cipriano Algor, his daughter and fellow potter Marta, and Marta's husband, Marcal Gacho. Cipriano, who owns one of the last true potteries to survive in an age of plastics and mass production, receives word that his work is no longer in demand, and the Center - the local center of commerce and faceless megacorporation - will no longer require his services.

Heartbroken - Cipriano's pottery has been in his family for two generations, and is all he has left of his late wife - the family must contemplate a change of work, develop new products, or face life in the cold, gray Center, where Marcal works as a security guard. The decision must be made quickly, for Marta is pregnant - and although Cipriano dreads the thought of moving to the soulless Center, he may have no choice.

The journey is one best left undescribed; it's depressing, uplifting, and heartwarming, all-in-one. However, along the way we meet Found, the dog, whose internal musings are some of the most appropriate I have ever encountered in literature, and a kind woman who Senhor Algor just happens to encounter when visiting his wife's grave.

I can't recommend this book enough. It's not for everyone, and can at times be very, very dense. However, I think its beauty shines through any imperfections it may have.
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LibraryThing member kirstiecat
Though this is not Saramago's best, it's creative in the sense of the potter and the artist as well as big manufacturing vs. individual hand made. The characters are sculptors trying to adapt to the modern way their country is doing things. This is also about rural vs. city and a bit about government control but not so much as Seeing is. My favorite part in the book was when he talked about how their are little brains in our fingers.… (more)
LibraryThing member adamallen
Saramago is one of my favorite authors. I've read five of his books now and I'm sad to say that this is the one that I liked least. This was mostly due to the fact that the book was just so SLOW. Don't get me wrong, I don't need the written equivalent of The Matrix to be interested in a book. My favorite author is Hermann Hesse and he isn't know for writing nail-biting thrill rides. But The Cave never seemed to get started. I spent 200 pages thinking, "any minute now..."

The plot focuses on the life of three characters, Cipriano Algor, his daughter, and his son-in-law. Cipriano is a potter who makes earthenware and sells it to "The Center". The Center is described to sound like a Super Wal-Mart, IKEA, and high-rise apartment building combined. This gives the reader the impression that the book is set in modern times. Our protagonist is a potter from a long pedigree of potters. His daughter, who lives with him, also shares his occupation. His son-in-law is a security guard at The Center.

Cipriano's business begins to struggle as earthenware becomes less popular with the masses. At the same time, his son-in-law awaits a promotion to resident guard and wants his wife and father-in-law to move to The Center with him. Thus is the primary tension of the story - Cipriano's antiquated occupation and more traditional lifestyle versus Wal-Mart.

One gets the distinct impression that Saramago is making several points with the story but it's so veiled that it requires some considerable thought. I'm still not sure I quite get some of the points he was trying to make through the events at the end of the story, including the very esoteric climax (and I use the term "climax" very loosely here). I'll speculate in the spoilers in case you're interested.

All in all, as mentioned above, the book is slow. It simply takes too long to get going and had it not been Saramago, I would have put it down. I'd been wanting to read this book for quite some time though so I was determined to plow on through. I would not recommend starting here if you've never read Saramago. Begin with Blindness or All The Names or The Double. I gave the book 2.5 stars because I believe it to be just an average book. Admittedly, that even includes a bias for this author.

Cipriano Algor has made earthenware for The Center for his entire life and one day gets the notice that people are no longer interested in his goods. He must remove his product from the shelves and should expect no further orders. During his return home from this horrible news, he stops by his wife's grave at the cemetery and sees another widower from town, a woman by the name of Isaura. She explains that the handle on the pitcher that she bought from Cipriano has broken. He offers to bring her a replacement and a very subtle romance has been sparked.

Upon his return home, a dog finds the Algor house and Cipriano adopts the pet as his own (dog name: Found). The dog is portrayed as very special but we never quite know why. The dog only wants to be around this family (and Isaura) and immediately made this house his home.

While the son-in-law, Marcal, is working at The Center, Cipriano's daughter comes up with the idea of making pottery figurines/dolls as a substitute product for The Center. The Center is willing to give them a try and will test market the figurines once a batch has been produced. The majority of the book is spent with our two main characters struggling to create these new products. In the meantime, Cipriano has delivered the replacement pitcher but refuses to admit to his family - indeed to himself - his affection for Isaura.

As the results of the test marketing return, The Center calls and informs Cipriano that they will not be ordering any more of the figurines. His business is dead. Marcal gets the promotion to resident guard and moves the family, including Cipriano, to The Center to live. On the day of departure, Cipriano takes Found to live with Isaura and finally professes his love to her which she does in return. Despite her protestations, he still refuses to stay with her since he has no work and cannot provide for a wife.

They move into The Center which is a modern high-rise with modern furniture and the father and daughter are very unhappy. Cipriano decides that he must find something to occupy his time. He begins walking around The Center everyday. It's as if his constant movement prevents him from absorbing his new reality. Shortly after they move in, The Center makes a discovery during the excavations to build an additional basement floor. The discovery is top secret among the security guards but Marcal lets slip to his family that a cave has been unearthed.

The security guards have rotating shifts where each one of them protects the cave (solo) for a four hour shift. Marcal's shift is at 2:00 a.m. Cipriano takes it upon himself to go see the cave during Marcal's shift. Cipriano feels implored to do this as he "knew something like this was going to happen". He had premonitions of "a sign." He goes into the cave and finds six dead people (three couples). They are all bound so that they are in an upright, sitting position on a stone bench. Cipriano gets exceptionally emotional and goes back to their apartment.

Upon arrival, his daughter awaits him and he tells her that "the people in the cave, that was us." He begins packing immediately and leaves to go back to their original home and pottery which has not been sold. He arrives to find Isaura caring for their home with Found. Within a few days, Marcal and his wife come home as well. Marcal indicates that the site of those cadavers was simply too much for him to remain at The Center.

When they realize that they now have no jobs, they decide to take an even bigger gamble and they pack up the van and start on the road with no particular destination in mind. That's where the book concludes.

While the book is considerably longer than the passage above, the plot isn't much thicker. The cave at the end is left to the reader's interpretation. Their leaving the home/pottery at the end seems a bit out of place as well.

The way that I read the book was that the plot is intended to compare and contrast old world and new world. It appears to be a statement by Saramago that the Wal-Marts are bad and that the craftsmen are unfortunately a dying breed. He makes it pretty obvious that he holds this in ill regard. The Center was always very cold and "by the numbers". Cipriano was always very understanding, living up to his committments, hard working, and caring (even to The Center).

I took the cave and the people therein as a sign that if Cipriano and family were to stay, The Center would swallow them and they would die as a part of it. We don't get enough detail to conclude much else. As I mentioned above, I'm sure there are other undercurrent messages that Saramago intended. I just let them slip right by.
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LibraryThing member V.V.Harding
The Cave is my first experience of Saramago, and I suspect it doesn't represent the qualities that won him the Nobel prize, though it may well deal with representative themes. One of the blurbs mentions that Saramago described himself as an essayist who turned to novel-writing, and this work could easily be described as an essay on the dangers of urbanization and centralization, the inevitable but sad decline of the individual artisan, and the complicated but ultimately overwhelmingly valuable nature of family relations. The story is essentially a parable, and not a subtle one, so let me talk instead about the narrative.

The omnipresent, hovering, interjecting, digressing narrative voice is something of a shock to a reader whose Read shelf contains the works mine does: it's so intrusive that it vies with the plot for being the focus of the novel. There is much to be unhappy with in this approach, but somehow the reader -- this reader -- never was unhappy: the gentle confidence of the voice somehow makes it acceptable, and over this very old-fashioned style eventually cast a very modern glow through commenting on its own selection and narration of events. Almost against my will it led me to accept it.

The Cave maybe not actually be a novel but a fictional reworking of a cautionary tale, an essay on some of the pitfalls of life cast in fictional form. But if one can relax with the narrative voice, the work, whatever it might be classified, can provide much of interest, and of pleasure.
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LibraryThing member louis.arata
It makes me want to learn more about philosophy.
LibraryThing member louis.arata
It makes me want to learn more about philosophy.
LibraryThing member dele2451
A quiet book that instilled a lot of disquiet inside me. A lot is left unanswered, but I know I'm not moving anywhere Found wouldn't be welcome.
LibraryThing member juniperSun
One would think that reading a book without quotation marks or paragraphs separating speakers would be very difficult and confusing, but this one wasn't. In fact it carried me along quite nicely. Perhaps because the old man and his daughter had lived together long enough that they knew what each other would say and there was no need to separate who said what. Perhaps because their voices were different enough that it was generally obvious who said what. This is not a relationship I have ever experienced, but it is one I almost envy, if 'envy' weren't a pejorative word.
It is a story of common people, villagers, with a simple daily life revolving around their work in their family pottery. Yet Cipriano's regular journeys to the big town show us that this village is on the edge of a zone of environmental destruction caused by the mega-corp that is taking over the city. We don't know where this is located and therefore can easily imagine it is here in our country. We know such a mega-corp. We fear for the continuation of our own village life.
In the first 50 pages I had jotted down dozens of homely aphorisms, charmed by new ways of looking at daily existence. Lo and behold, the author now speaks to the reader (p.56), acknowledging his use of aphorisms and how useless they are in difficult circumstances. I am charmed by the author acknowledging my existence, and, in later passages, taking the time to interrupt his story to explain what he will or will not tell us, meanwhile giving the story time to unfold as it will.
I enjoyed getting to know Cipriano, Marta, and Marcal; their love and support for each other, their good humor in trying times, their acceptance of what the other needs. And even tho I didn't learn enough to become a potter myself, we do learn quite a bit about the steps in creating items from clay the old-fashioned way.
I was, however, very surprised at the ending. Since Cipriano called the repository where he put his reject work a 'cave,' I had imagined people discovering these rejects and cherishing them as unique/quaint/charming. Well, what else could happen to provide a livelihood for this village family?
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LibraryThing member BCCJillster
Memorable characters; challenging ideas


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