The Cave by José Saramago, Margaret Jull Costa (Translator)


Description: Cipriano Algor, an elderly potter, lives with his daughter Marta and her husband Marçal in a small village on the outskirts of The Center, an imposing complex of shops, apartments, and offices to which Cipriano delivers his pots and jugs every month. On one such trip, he is told not to make any more deliveries. Unwilling to give up his craft, Cipriano tries his hand at making ceramic dolls. Astonishingly, The Center places an order for hundreds, and Cipriano and Marta set to work-until the order is cancelled and the three have to move from the village into The Center. When mysterious sounds of digging emerge from beneath their apartment, Cipriano and Marçal investigate, and what they find transforms the family’s life. Filled with the depth, humor, and the extraordinary philosophical richness that marks each of Saramago’s novels, The Cave is one of the essential books of our time.

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

—Plato, The Republic, Book VII

Opening: The man driving the truck is called Cipriano Algor, he is a potter by profession and is sixty-four years old, although he certainly does not look his age. The man sitting beside him is his son-in-law, Marçal Gacho, and he is not yet thirty. Nevertheless, from his face too, you would think him much younger. As you will have noticed, attached to their first names both these men have unusual family names, whose origin, meaning, and reason they do not know. They would probably be most put out to learn that “algor” means the intense cold one feels in one’s body before a fever sets in, and that “gacho” is neither more nor less than the part of an ox’s neck on which the yoke rests.

Could you just tell me why sales have dropped so sharply, Yes, I think it was the launch of some imitation crockery made out of plastic, it’s so good that it looks like the real thing, with the added advantage that it’s much lighter and much cheaper, But that’s no reason for people to stop buying mine, earthenware’s earthenware, it’s authentic, it’s natural

What if I started selling to shops in the city, it’s just a matter of getting authorization from the Center, after all, if they’re buying less from me, they can’t really stop me selling to someone else, You know as well as I do that the shops in the city are having a real struggle just to keep their heads above water, everyone does their shopping at the Center, more and more people want to live at the Center, Well, I don’t, What are you going to do if the Center stops buying our crockery altogether and the people around here start using plastic utensils

One week crockery, the other, figurines.


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