Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector
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"That rare person who looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf," Clarice Lispector is one of the most popular but least understood of Latin American writers. Now, after years of research on three continents, drawing on previously unknown manuscripts and dozens of interviews, Benjamin Moser demonstrates how Lispector's development as a writer was directly connected to the story of her turbulent life. Born in the nightmarish landscape of post-World War I Ukraine, Clarice became, virtually from adolescence, a person whose beauty, genius, and eccentricity intrigued Brazil. Why This World tells how this precocious girl, through long exile abroad and difficult personal struggles, matured into a great writer. It also asserts, for the first time, the deep roots in the Jewish mystical tradition that make her the true heir to Kafka as well as the unlikely author of "perhaps the greatest spiritual autobiography of the twentieth century." From Chechelnik to Recife, from Naples and Berne to Washington and Rio de Janeiro, Why This World strips away the mythology surrounding this extraordinary figure and shows how Clarice Lispector transformed one woman's struggles into a universally resonant art.
people hostage, promising to free them in exchange for money. Isaac and some neighbors offered to change places with the hostages, and with great difﬁculty the sum demanded was collected. The bandits murdered the hostages anyway.50 Of herself, Elisa writes, “She shouldn’t have mentioned Grandfather. Mother also knew what ‘they’ had done to him.” In Isaac’s lovely house, where Elisa fondly remembered bathing in the stream and playing in the surrounding woods, “they broke the colored glass on the
lamented her powerlessness–– The Magical Stories 63 In Recife, where I lived until I was twelve, there was often a crowd on the streets, listening to someone speak ardently about the social tragedy. And I remember how I trembled and how I promised myself that this would one day be my task: to defend the rights of others. Yet what did I end up being, and so early? I ended up as a person who searches for what she deeply feels and uses the word to express it. It’s little, it’s very little.17
bond united us forever. We were more than sisters.”25 In a fragment written in English during the years Clarice lived in the United States, she recalls her childhood and the origins of her bond with Tania. “ ‘Till you were about 10 [Tania said to Clarice] I was not very aware of you, suddenly I became aware how interesting you were.’ I suppose she really meant: I became aware how much you needed me. I don’t know what to do when the person comes to me; I’m the one to go to the person. To be
have to do is reach out your hand to grab me.”22 “I laughed a lot when I read your letter,” she responded. “I could have expected an answer like that. But the truth is: I wasn’t trying to make myself huge or intelligent.” She alluded to a particularly negative description of herself: “When I told you I was egocentric, I wasn’t just saying so. I really am. And lots of other, even worse, things. . . . I was never very open or sweet. I’m not sure if certain circumstances in my life made me that way,
river, but they weren’t a river, they weren’t anything. . . . Sometimes a little object with an almost starry form but tired like a person. A work that would never end: that was the most beautiful and careful thing she had ever known: since if she could make anything that existed and anything that did not!12 The strange syntax and the unexpected adjectives that made Clarice Lispector’s language sound so foreign when it ﬁrst appeared remain striking today, especially when given another layer of