My own notes: I’ve been reading a biography of Clarice Lispector (Why This World by Benjamin Moser) and while a bit overwrought at times (especially in regards to his interpretations of her work), still I’m learning a lot about the life of this great writer, whose work I’ve been enjoying for a long time now. Her ‘Hour of the Star’ is in my all-time top five list both for books and films.
I like a biography that tells you interesting things about the author’s life and surroundings, but I could do without any of the near-to-the-wildly-ridiculous Freudian interpretations of their work. Moser tries hard to link every single protagonist to Lispector’s childhood grief about her mother’s early death. He also loads us down with Lispector’s alleged lifelong quest for God, which really seems like something that didn’t actually happen. She seems to have been an atheist Jew who equated God with Nature or The Way Things Are and didn’t bother so much about it. If anything, her lifelong quest for understanding was towards the heart of humanity and the nature of people. The Hour of the Star is as close as anything I’ve read to capturing the simultaneous greatness and smallness of the human condition.
Her parents’ ordeals as Jews from Ukraine during the early part of the 20th century, then as poor exiles in Northeast Brazil is presented well, as are certain aspects of Lispector’s personality. The analyses of her books is surprisingly tedious and shallow given that the biographer is one of her English translators. You get very little sense of the very things that makes her writing special, those sharp shards of insight and revelation she flings about so casually, the sheer shimmering of her prose, or the odd and unique perspectives she offers. Instead he paddles his canoe down psychological backwaters that serves no purpose either biographically or in terms of literature. He also repeats the same quotes over and over again, diminishing his own work, and that of his subject
“I am so mysterious that even I don’t understand myself.” CL
I am currently reading Agua Viva by the great Clarice Lispector, translated by Stefan Tobler. There are lamentably few of Lispectors works translated into English – hopefully this will change as her popularity here increases as in her native Brazil.
I’ll review Auga Viva soon. I’m on my second reading. Her work is always uncompromising I am reading a translation of it, which is its own miracle.
I wanted to single this passage out, because the idea is touching.
From Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector:
I’ve spoken a lot about death. But I’m going to speak to you about the breath of life. When a person is already no longer breathing, you give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation: you place your mouth upon the other person’s and breathe. And the other starts to breathe again. This exchange of breath is one of the…
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