José Saramago is a master at pacing. Readers unfamiliar with the work of this Portuguese Nobel Prize winner would do well to begin with The Cave, a novel of ideas, shaded with suspense.
Spare and pensive, The Cave follows the fortunes of an aging potter, Cipriano Algor, beginning with his weekly delivery of plates to the Center, a high-walled, windowless shopping complex, residential community, and nerve center that dominates the region. What sells at the Center will sell everywhere else, and what the Center rejects can barely be given away in the surrounding towns and villages. The news for Cipriano that morning isn't good. Half of his regular pottery shipment is rejected, and he is told that the consumers now prefer plastic tableware. Over the next week, he and his grown daughter Marta grieve for their lost craft, but they gradually open their eyes to the strange bounty of their new condition: a stray dog adopts them, and a lovely widow enters Cipriano's life. When they are invited to live at the Center, it seems ungracious to refuse, but there are some strange developments under the complex, and a troubling increase in security, and Cipriano changes all their fates by deciding to investigate.
In Saramago's able hands, what might have become a dry social allegory is a delicately elaborated story of individualism and unexpected love. /Regina Marler/