on August 7, 2012
You know what, I don't think I'll tell you anything about this 77-page epiphany. Nothing I could write would stand comparison to it. Don't waste your aging eyes on me; just get the book.
"A Hora da Estrela" was Clarice Lispector's last work, published in 1977 shortly before her death. Having stumbled upon her first novel, translated as "Near to the Wild Heart," and having had my socks knocked off by that experience, naturally I decided to read her last book next. I reviewed "Near to the Wild Heart" just a week or so ago; I urge you to begin with it, as I did. And ASAP! Don't take a chance on being struck dead by space debris before reading Clarice Lispector!
I thought, when I picked up 'Near to the Wild Heart', that I'd never heard of Lispector. That was a failure of memory. The poet Elizabeth Bishop, who lived in Brazil for fifteen years, knew Lispector and her work, and translated a couple of her shortest stories to English, including "The Smallest Woman in the World", which I read in college, in manuscript. Anything Bishop loved, her poet friend Robert Lowell also felt compelled to love, and to pass on to his students, including me. Oh well, I didn't catch the bug then, possibly a matter of good luck since now I have all of her work to relish. And "age" has made me a more insightful reader.
There are some complaints in the previous reviews about the quality of Benjamin Moser's translations of Lispector's work. I haven't attempted to read her in Portuguese (yet) and I haven't seen the older translations. All I can say is that I don't find Moser's style awkward or implausible.
In her final novel, Brazilian novelist/poet Clarice Lispector (1920 - 1977) writes an eerie, almost supernatural tale of Macabea, a nineteen-year-old woman almost devoid of opinion, thoughts, and even feelings. Her story is being told by Roderigo S.M., a writer, similarly isolated, without a long-term idea of what he wants to write, though he says, as he begins the story, that he has "glimpsed in the air the feeling of perdition on the face of a northeastern girl [Macabea]." He tells the reader that "This isn't just narrative, it's above all primary life that breathes, breathes, breathes," he states, leaving the reader in somewhat of a quandary trying to figure out what he is talking about.
In telling Macabea's story, however, the narrator discovers that he himself has a kind of destiny, and that "the action of this story will end up with my transformation into somebody else. Initially, though, the novel recreates the narrator's maunderings as he tries to get started and wonders what to say. "Will things happen? They will. But what things? I don't know that either." He recognizes the importance of keeping things simple in writing, though "I know splendid adjectives, meaty nouns, and verbs so slender that travel sharp through the air." Macabea lives aimlessly, he says, and that "if she was dumb enough to ask herself `who am I?' she would fall flat on her face...[She is] so dumb that she sometimes smiles at other people on the street. Nobody smiles back because they don't even see her."
Having grown up poor in the northeast of Brazil, Macabea lived with her "sanctimonious aunt," who rapped her on the head, beat her, and more importantly (to her), sometimes deprived her of daily dessert, and she has developed into a person so unthinking that she "didn't wonder why she was always being punished." Now, having moved to Rio, she never worries about her ignorance because she does not recognize it. What she does "know" for certain is that at the hour of death, a person "becomes a shining movie star, it's everyone's moment of glory, and it's when as in choral chanting you hear the whooshing shrieks."
On the morning of May seventh, however, "the unexpected ecstasy for her tiny little body [arrives]" and she falls in love with Olimpico de Jesus Moreira Chaves, but even together they "cast little shadow upon the ground." Several pages of their conversations are among the most amazing writing imaginable - neither Macabea nor Olimpico has a clue as they try to find some level of interest in something - anything! - which will allow them to talk. The results are both hilarious and pathetic. A trip to a fortune teller and its aftermath provide the turning point, and irony builds upon irony as the author explores who we are, how we know, how we fit into the grand scheme of life, and ultimately, whether there actually is any "grand scheme." In this odd but peculiarly thought-provoking novel, the reader may often be as confused and conflicted as the narrator, but after a slow start, I became enchanted with it. Here two complete negatives, Macabea and author Roderigo, have created a bizarre positive. Ultimately, Roderigo asks, "What was the truth of my Maca? As soon as you discover the truth it's already gone: the moment passed, I ask: What is? Reply: it's not." Mary Whipple
on December 28, 2015
I had to get this book for my creative writing class (as we examine authors and their writing styles to improve our own) and I have to admit something: I don't always read the books I'm assigned for class. Don't get me wrong, I love reading and at one point was a very avid reader, but I just don't have the time anymore what with all the work I have for other classes + clubs and organizations + work + internships. Usually I'm able to buy the book, read a few pages to get a feel for the style, google a summary of it to know what actually happened and get away with it. However, when I started reading this book I actually got so hooked I had to finish. And it isn't a long book at all, which was great for me, but it really did change my outlook on life a bit. And that's what good books/movies do. They make you think, and they change a part of you. You get attached to Macabea in a way that you would your niece or nephew. It's not your child so ultimately you are not obliged to care as much as the parents, but you're fond of them anyway. If you're on the edge about reading this, I say go for it. Clarice Lispector is brilliant and I think you'll think so too.
on January 6, 2016
I read this without preconception, not knowing what to expect from Lispector's book, knowing little of Lispector. At first I was puzzled. Was there a story here? Was this a book about writing a book? Was this philosophy and musing on perception and reality, fate and destiny, a new myth of Sisyphus? It seems to be all of that, in a most unusual prose style that produced a response in me even when I could not parse the phraseology intellectually. Altogether different, and fascinating.