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Max and the Cats Paperback – November 25, 2003

3.8 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Originally published in Brazil in 1981, Scliar's novella tells, with a sharp eye but a glancing touch, the story of a boy at the mercy of terrible forces, who grows into a man similarly powerless, until he commits an act of violent defiance. German Max Schmidt, son of a brutish furrier and a gentle mother, is "morbidly sensitive," imagining escape to exotic climes. At university, Max befriends a troubled socialist and rekindles his affair with libidinous Frida, the fur store clerk who had deflowered him. But Frida is now married to a Nazi, who learns of the relationship, and Max must flee on a ship bound for Brazil. When the ship sinks-sabotaged by its evil captain and the owner of the menagerie of animals in the hull-Max barely survives, only to find himself in a tiny dinghy in the company of a jaguar, whom he imagines has been sent to torment him. Max is rescued and makes his way to Brazil, where he lives in relative comfort until he spies a man in a Nazi uniform across the courtyard. He flees again, this time to the hills, where he becomes a moderately successful farmer, marries a native and has a daughter. Max can be an irrational, not entirely likable hero, and in this slight but somber fable, there is little time for him to win readers' hearts, though he earns their sympathy. When another Nazi moves onto the hillside above him, Max finally stands up to fate and the forces of evil. Scliar's affecting story about the power of fear has what purports to be a happy ending, but the darkness lingers.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Fleeting pleasure leads to disaster when young Max Schmidt's first sexual encounter becomes an act of political subversion. Escape to Brazil salvages him from Nazi Germany's supremacist principles, a domineering father, and the macabre laboratories of one professor Kunz, who is in search of the meaning of life. But when it comes to liberating himself from bestial felines, Max is not so fortunate. The glaring eyes of his father's taxidermic tiger haunts his sleep. A jaguar happens to be his companion at sea after a shipwreck. His blissful exile is threatened when the cries of a panther mysteriously herald the arrival of a German officer. Scliar convivially probes the angst of the migrator and the loss of identity. Terse and whimsical, this engaging subterraneous fantasy strengthens the writer's already intrepid voice in Latin American fiction.
- Bibi S. Thompson, " Library Journal "
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (November 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452284538
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452284531
  • Product Dimensions: 4.5 x 0.4 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,418,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on May 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
"Max and the Cats" is a surreal comic novel by Moacyr Scliar, a great writer from Brazil. "Max" has been translated from Portuguese into English by Eloah F. Giacomelli (who also translated Scliar's monumental "Collected Stories"). "Max" tells the story of Max Schmidt, who is born in Germany in 1912, the son of a furrier. The novel tells of Max's coming of age and his emigration to Brazil.
Max's life story is structured around his encounters with three big felines: a stuffed tiger in his father's shop, a jaguar, and an onca (a Brazilian wildcat). I don't want to reveal too much about the novel's quirky plot. I will just say that Max gets into many remarkable situations: comic, frightening, erotic, and/or absurd.
Much of the story takes place under the specter of World War II and the Nazis, and other elements of the novel tap into the myth of the Americas as a new world of opportunity. Scliar also refers more than once to the work of Jose de Alencar, the 19th century Brazilian writer who created a romantic, idealized portrait of the relationship between Native Americans and Europeans. Scliar seems to be ironically commenting on the work of this literary predecessor.
"Max and the Cats" is a weird, wonderful triumph for Moacyr Scliar. Combining elements of mystery, realism, and the fantastic, this novel is an excellent example of Scliar's uniquely delightful voice.
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The book is slimmer than a slice of bread. The prose is so sparse that it seems to be either a short story in a novel form or just an outline. No main character description, although his parents were described, as well as all the other characters around him (Max.) Barely a few pages about the shipwreck, jaguar. I read "Life of Pi" and loved it; I guess you "could" say the big cat in the lifeboat part was used in Life Of Pi, but certainly not the rest of the book. I wish the writing had been plumped out a bit more into maybe a 225 page book instead of mealy 113 pages. It would have been a fuller, deeper read.

The ending just kind of petered out (also didn't like the fact he poisoned, bludgeoned dogs doing their jobs) and left me feeling what the hell just happened.
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Max and the Cats, a novella by the Brazilian-Jewish novelist Moacyr Scliar, is probably best known for its vivid middle section in which the protagonist is stranded on a lifeboat, floating off the coast of South America, with a hungry jaguar he needs to feed – which inspired (or was appropriated by) Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. It’s certainly the most memorable image of this somewhat meandering tale of the hapless Max Schmidt, a man floating through life stalked both by felines and fascists.

It’s a charming story, written in an oral style complete with little tangents and asides that make it seem at times like an old grandfather is recounting it. Max is a presumably intentionally frustrating central character, however, and that can wear on you even in as short a book as this one.

He is a man who is letting himself float along through history and through his life, being injured not when the police break up the socialist demonstration he passes by in post-World War One Berlin but on his father’s shop counter, fleeing the Nazis not for political reasons but because he has been sleeping with one’s wife, encountering Brazilian right wingers and promptly abandoning his new home. He lets events determine his course, at times abruptly, rather than making much of an effort to determine events. He is a coward, albeit an occasionally likable one.

Max’s journey towards taking control and taking action would be a bit more compelling if he didn’t continually fail upward. For all his nervous meltdowns and self-pity, his drifting consistently moves him away from terrible fates and towards a pretty happy life.
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Format: Paperback
Well, this book is no longer in print at the time and I had to find a copy at a used bookstore. Now, it looks like Amazon carries it so alot easier to get it. Pretty slim book which makes it easy to carry in your coat pocket when you are on the go like me. I mainly got this book since I loved his previous book, "The Centaur in the Garden". I know this is a short book so it would be unfair to compare it against "The Centaur in the Garden".

Let me first say that immediately I was drawn in by Scliar's descriptions of a young boy traumatized in his father's fur coat store. All of his descriptions are marvelous and nobody compares except maybe Roald Dahl. Part of the reason why I really appreciate Scliar is because he can write beautifully for both adults and kids. Instead of painting adults as mean souled, Scliar just tells it as it is without any bias of adolescence over adulthood. Looking back at Dahl's works, most stories and novels tended to show that parents don't know best. Without revealing much of the plot, Scliar has an even-hand in portraying both kids and adults. I just loved how Scliar deals with the estranged relationship between Max and his father.

Another thing that I value in Scliar's books is his storytelling which can take you pretty much anywhere. If you are looking for a linear plot where everything gets wrapped up together in the end, then this is not it. Life really is not like that at all and Scliar gets this right. There are no fairy-tale endings in books. I really felt refreshed after finishing the book and wished it went on more like with his wife, Jaci and his daughter. But, I think Scliar wanted to just leave it as is. We live life to its fullest and without regrets. Max may have dealt with some issues in the past.
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