“Legend” by Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by Andrew Hurley
Cain and Abel came upon each other after Abel’s death. They were walking through the desert, and they recognized each other from afar, since both men were very tall. The two brothers sat on the ground, made a fire, and ate. They sat silently, as weary people do when dusk begins to fall. In the sky, a star glimmered, though it had not yet been given a name. In the light of the fire, Cain saw that Abel’s forehead bore the mark of the stone, and he dropped the bread he was about to carry to his mouth and asked his brother to forgive him.
“Was it you that killed me, or did I kill you?” Abel answered. “I don’t re-member anymore; here we are, together, like before.”
“Now I know that you have truly forgiven me,” Cain said, “because forgetting is forgiving. I, too, will try to forget.”
“Yes,” said Abel slowly. “So long as remorse lasts, guilt lasts.”
Cain and Abel, 1881 by Frederic Leighton, (1830–1896)
William Vollmann writes about John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (excerpted from Imperial via Expelled from Eden)—
The book of his which I admire the most is East of Eden. For a decade now the character of Kate, whom some critics find unconvincing has haunted my head; she’s horrific, she’s pathetic, she’s steady and successful and lonely; she is perfectly what she is. The retelling of the Cain and Abel story is brilliant, the landscape descriptions lovely and lush, the plotting as careful and convincing as the best of George Eliot. And of course there’s a message, a flaw, personified by a Chinese servant who tells us, sometimes at great length, what to think. But Lee has never annoyed me. He speechifies intelligently, at times wittily, and sometimes compassionately. Do I care that nobody I’ve ever met talks like that? He is sincere because Steinbeck is sincere. And this is what I love about Steinbeck most of all, his sincerity.