Why This World

cla3 There’s a great review of Benjamin Moser’s new biography of Clarice Lispector, Why This World,  in The New York Times. She’s considered by many to be the Brazilian James Joyce, and her translator Gregory Rabassa once said, “She looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf.”

Moser tells The Times UK that he wrote this biography because he was “totally in love with her”:

I know some biographical subjects get smaller and smaller as you get closer to them,” he says. “You realise that they’re petty, or they stole funds from the orphanage; you realise they’re annoying, they’re bitchy or they’re tiresome. With her, the closer I got to her, the more grandiose she became… The more you understand about her work and what it cost her, the more you realise you are never going to be on her level.

Her early life was dramatic. She was born in Ukraine in 1920; her birth name was Chaya Pinkhasovna Lispector. Her family fled Russia’s pogroms after WWI, but unfortunately not before Clarice’s mother was raped by soldiers and contracted syphilis. The family arrived in Brazil when Clarice was two years old, and her mother died (of syphilis) seven years later. After reading Herman Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf at the age of 13, she knew she wanted to be a writer. When she was 23, Clarice married a Brazilian diplomat and spent the next 16 years living in places like Naples, Berne and Washington, DC.

Her debut novel, Near to the Wild Heart, appeared in 1943 and was a critical success. According to the Times UK article, it was

lionised by the critics as “a miracle of balance, perfectly engineered”, combining “the intellectual lucidity of the characters of Dostoevsky with the purity of a child”.

So why is she not more well known in this country? Why is it Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda seem to be the only South American writers we Americans know about? Hopefully this biography will start to change that.

Lispector once wrote, “I am so mysterious that even I don’t understand myself.”


~ by Valerie Palmer on August 19, 2009.

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