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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 "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.


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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 "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.

30 review for Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector

  1. 4 out of 5

    J.L. Sutton

    I came across Benjamin Moser’s biography, Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector after reading a couple of Lispector’s novels earlier this year. I was intrigued by The Hour of the Star and Como nasceram as estrelas, but had no idea that Lispector was considered such an icon (and an enigmatic one at that) of late 20th century Brazilian literature. Moser does a great job detailing her early life (as a very young immigrant from the Ukraine) and establishing the context for her writing. It I came across Benjamin Moser’s biography, Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector after reading a couple of Lispector’s novels earlier this year. I was intrigued by The Hour of the Star and Como nasceram as estrelas, but had no idea that Lispector was considered such an icon (and an enigmatic one at that) of late 20th century Brazilian literature. Moser does a great job detailing her early life (as a very young immigrant from the Ukraine) and establishing the context for her writing. It made me realize I’d only scratched the surface by what I’d read; I wanted to read more of Lispector’s work. Moser also provides context for why, even with the huge popularity of her debut novel, Near to the Wild Heart, she was so little understood until late in her life. Her enigmatic nature earned her a couple of nicknames, apparently not appreciated by Lispector, the Sacred Monster and Hurricane Clarice. Nice biography that made me wanting to know more (and read more)!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Penelope Fitzgerald wrote to her American editor in 1987: "On the whole, I think you should write biographies of those you admire and respect, and novels about human beings who you think are sadly mistaken." This a remarkable biography. Moser clearly admires Lispector and one learns so much about her life and work from him. His tone, so unlike that of Joan Schenkar (which struck me as rapacious) in The Talented Miss Highsmith, the last biography I read, is even-handed, and the narrative voice int Penelope Fitzgerald wrote to her American editor in 1987: "On the whole, I think you should write biographies of those you admire and respect, and novels about human beings who you think are sadly mistaken." This a remarkable biography. Moser clearly admires Lispector and one learns so much about her life and work from him. His tone, so unlike that of Joan Schenkar (which struck me as rapacious) in The Talented Miss Highsmith, the last biography I read, is even-handed, and the narrative voice intelligent and insightful. He alternates telling the story of her life with a discussion of the book she was writing at the time, and his discussion is smart and respectful, never overly in-depth so that you feel you'd better not continue if you've not yet read the book described. Her masterworks: Near to the Wild Heart, The Passion According to G.H., Agua Viva, The Hour of the Star. Of these I've read only the first (though I've read her 2 story collections, and Cronicas, all very worthwhile, and also with gems). It's a good biography that brings you back to the subject's books...I plan to read them all now. I like Moser. I like how much compassion he shows Lispector, even when she is behaving less than admirably, I trust his view of her life, his respect for her 'unbearable genius,' the thought he brings to bear on this carefully and masterfully written biography of a woman whose very modern work is as important and as beautiful as that of Kafka, Joyce, Woolf. >>> I wrote this review in 2009, long before I knew anything of the controversy surrounding Moser, in particular accusations of plagiarism by Brazilian women writers who'd written about Lispector and claim their writings were used without attribution.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jenny McPhee

    A Soul Turned Inside Out: Clarice Lispector, Hélène Cixous, and L’écriture féminine The first time the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector was interviewed, following her sensational debut in 1944 with the novel Near to the Wild Heart, she was asked why she writes: “I write because I find in it a pleasure that I don’t know how to translate. I’m not pretentious. I write for myself, to hear my soul talking and singing, sometimes crying.” She said she believed all writing, in some sense, was autobiog A Soul Turned Inside Out: Clarice Lispector, Hélène Cixous, and L’écriture féminine The first time the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector was interviewed, following her sensational debut in 1944 with the novel Near to the Wild Heart, she was asked why she writes: “I write because I find in it a pleasure that I don’t know how to translate. I’m not pretentious. I write for myself, to hear my soul talking and singing, sometimes crying.” She said she believed all writing, in some sense, was autobiographical: “After all Flaubert was right when he said: ‘Madame Bovary c’est moi.’ One is always at the forefront.” Shortly before her death, she stated: “I write as if to save somebody’s life. Probably my own life.” (A Breath of Life, 1978) Benjamin Moser’s thorough biography of Clarice Lispector, Why This World, struggles, and wonderfully fails, to bring us closer to the writer he describes as, “weird, mysterious, and difficult, an unknowable mystical genius far above, and outside, the common run of humanity.” Indeed, Lispector’s entire project as a woman and a writer was to remain unknown while simultaneously exposing herself. “I am so mysterious I don’t even understand myself,” says Lispector in one breath; in the next, “My mystery is that I have no mystery.” Her carefully constructed auto-biographical conundrum dictates that the only way into Clarice Lispector is via the individual reader’s esoteric engagement with her writing; Moser admits to having in this manner “fallen in love” with her himself. In a valiant attempt to describe Lispector’s unknown/known quality, he writes: The soul exposed in her work is the soul of a single woman, but within it one finds the full range of human experience. This is why Clarice Lispector has been described as just about everything: a woman and a man, a native and a foreigner, a Jew and a Christian, a child and an adult, an animal and a person, a lesbian and a housewife, a witch and a saint. Because she described so much of her intimate experience she could credibly be everything for everyone, venerated by those who found in her expressive genius a mirror of their own souls. Read the rest of my review at Bookslut http://www.bookslut.com/the_bombshell...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    An interesting introduction to the life of Lispector - at times it spends too long on details of Brazilian and other politics which makes it somewhat uneven - Moser can be repetitive on CL's thought and philosophy, with multi-page quotations from her texts and too much storytelling rather than analysis - so not a scholarly or critical assessment but it's useful to a new reader, as I am, to have so much background material collected together here, including extracts from letters, interviews, and An interesting introduction to the life of Lispector - at times it spends too long on details of Brazilian and other politics which makes it somewhat uneven - Moser can be repetitive on CL's thought and philosophy, with multi-page quotations from her texts and too much storytelling rather than analysis - so not a scholarly or critical assessment but it's useful to a new reader, as I am, to have so much background material collected together here, including extracts from letters, interviews, and the writings of her sister, friends and colleagues.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    I enjoyed this overview of Clarice Lispector and learning some small facts about her life and personality helped immensely with being able to read her works. Why this World fell short of a four star for me because I thought that Moser dedicated too much page space to his own analysis of her works and imposed his own judgements on the facts of her life. He was present on every page, often overshadowing and imposing on Clarice. I would have liked to see more of the content from letters and diaries I enjoyed this overview of Clarice Lispector and learning some small facts about her life and personality helped immensely with being able to read her works. Why this World fell short of a four star for me because I thought that Moser dedicated too much page space to his own analysis of her works and imposed his own judgements on the facts of her life. He was present on every page, often overshadowing and imposing on Clarice. I would have liked to see more of the content from letters and diaries of friends discussing her as contemporaries and something from her own personal papers that are not part of her published bibliography. Instead, there were incredibly long passages quoted directly from her short stories and novels followed by long passages of Moser's analysis taking almost half of the page count. Although I know this sort of analysis is common in literary biography, I wanted to know about Clarice Lispector and not about what Benjamin Moser thinks of Clarice Lispector's works. I thought he treated her metaphysical learning cursorily and substituted the background the reader needed on Spinosa and Cabbalism with long passages of analysis of Brazilian politics and political leaders that had only roundabout connection to Clarice (she met them a few times or her husband knew them). Her children, who were incredibly important to her and her understanding of herself (by her own admission many times), feature almost not at all (we are told that Pedro's illness affected her from a young age and the Paulo married - but beyond that nothing else of their lives). Maury appears for only a few pages. Her sisters and the female friends who made up her day-to-day life each have perhaps a page. It was incredibly disappointing. I wanted to know her and the people who surrounded her and influenced her, and instead I know something of the succession of Brazilian leaders in the 20th century and about how Moser reads her works (and even his analysis I thought was pompous and overblown - I started skipping it around the last third of the book). If you like Lispector and are an English reader, I do recommend persevering through this, but if you have not read her works, do not expect this book to inspire you to. Try first with her short stories.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    Pedant warning: Moser is inordinately fond of the phrase "begs the question" which does not mean "to raise or pose the question" as he and his publisher (OUP?!) seem to think it does. Be advised that if you like to approach a novel somewhat unspoiled, and haven't yet read Lispector's The Passion According to G.H. (where it could be argued a sense of surprise is part of that story's effect), it won't be enough to skip the chapter dealing with that book as he goes on to deliver one honking great sp Pedant warning: Moser is inordinately fond of the phrase "begs the question" which does not mean "to raise or pose the question" as he and his publisher (OUP?!) seem to think it does. Be advised that if you like to approach a novel somewhat unspoiled, and haven't yet read Lispector's The Passion According to G.H. (where it could be argued a sense of surprise is part of that story's effect), it won't be enough to skip the chapter dealing with that book as he goes on to deliver one honking great spoiler repeatedly in many successive chapters. I discovered Lispector's work earlier this year and had high hopes for this biography, but I kept feeling as if I had to peer around Moser to get at Lispector. I found his focus on the mystical, religious aspects of her writing to not quite do justice to other aspects of her writing such as the surrealism, and her work in context of time, place, gender and fellow writers. He's on sturdier ground during the first half of the book describing her family background and her early life. I'd give Lispector 5 stars as a writer, but only 3 for this bio as it's just not a very good appraisal of her work.

  7. 5 out of 5

    julieta

    I am not usually a fan of biographies, I think they are inevitably partial, and it's very hard to know a life, even if it is described completely. And also I feel a certain guilt of reading someone's life on the page, I find it a little vouyeristic, (I know that word most likely does not exist) but this time I liked knowing more of Clarice, mostly of what was going on around her when she wrote each Novel, where she lived, her family, her friends. You can tell the author loves her, and that I can I am not usually a fan of biographies, I think they are inevitably partial, and it's very hard to know a life, even if it is described completely. And also I feel a certain guilt of reading someone's life on the page, I find it a little vouyeristic, (I know that word most likely does not exist) but this time I liked knowing more of Clarice, mostly of what was going on around her when she wrote each Novel, where she lived, her family, her friends. You can tell the author loves her, and that I can relate to. It's a love letter to Clarice and her life, and very well written. Qué misterio tiene Clarice <3

  8. 5 out of 5

    flannery

    I feel like everything I've ever read has been priming me for Clarice Lispector; not that she's my new favorite writer, but I'm able to read her books entirely without suspicion. She writes about emotion, not melodrama, writes about experience as though it were the first time ever felt. Reminds me of music. Attempts to elucidate her mystique show how transparent she really is, vulnerable even, vulnerability being such a rare and precious thing in writers. "Still alive because it was only 9 in th I feel like everything I've ever read has been priming me for Clarice Lispector; not that she's my new favorite writer, but I'm able to read her books entirely without suspicion. She writes about emotion, not melodrama, writes about experience as though it were the first time ever felt. Reminds me of music. Attempts to elucidate her mystique show how transparent she really is, vulnerable even, vulnerability being such a rare and precious thing in writers. "Still alive because it was only 9 in the morning," from a short story. And something, I can't find the quote, about sorrow without anger, like looking for the seafloor from a boat and not finding it, from "Near to the Wild Heart." Love it, can't get enough.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I am curious to learn more about one of my favorite Brazilian writers, a real "myth" according to some critics.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Emma Roulette

    The “it”, the “neutral”, the “pre-human”. When I read Clarice Lispector, I believe that these things exist. I know what she is talking about. And the experience of reading her brings you close to having the same experiences yourself. But when I read Moser’s biography, I often found myself doubting whether I had ever truly experienced the “it” in the first place, and if it even exists at all. Moser and other critics classify Lispector’s writing as “mystical” but I think to label it in any form fl The “it”, the “neutral”, the “pre-human”. When I read Clarice Lispector, I believe that these things exist. I know what she is talking about. And the experience of reading her brings you close to having the same experiences yourself. But when I read Moser’s biography, I often found myself doubting whether I had ever truly experienced the “it” in the first place, and if it even exists at all. Moser and other critics classify Lispector’s writing as “mystical” but I think to label it in any form flattens the attempt to describe the “it” as just part of some sort of genre of other writers. In other words: The tao that can be named is not the tao. It’s like having a dream vs. telling someone about the dream. Lispector is the dream and Moser is the telling. You might have a dream where you talk to aliens and they impart some Profound Secret about the human race or being in a body or whatever. But when you tell someone about the dream, it gets categorized as “dream” and therefore has certain limits to its significance with regard to everyday life. Oh, dreams are mystical, just like grass is green and water is wet, what else is new. You know how you can’t really explain why an experience is profoundly moving? Because being moved is about what happens to you. Saying that something is profound does nothing to truly explain the effect it has on you. Or like: Explaining why a joke is funny can never substitute the funniness of the joke itself. On the other hand you could also say that Lispector is the telling and the “it” is the dream. But Lispector, unlike Moser, does the telling in a way that enhances the “it”, brings it to life, gets you to experience it. In a way that explaining a joke or, in this case, writing her biography, never could. I don’t blame Moser. He was writing a biography. Biographies are supposed to be factual, rational, compatible with the everyday. That’s why I think I have a problem with the whole project of writing a biography about Lispector in the first place. Lispector herself claimed “Facts and particulars annoy me”, yet this book is nothing but details of her birthplace, youth, books she was reading, people she knew, places she lived, the political climate in those places, etc. I am so doubtful of reading all of her work as autobiographical in some way. Skeptical as seeing the work as a symptom of a person. And to parse out all these details and relate them to what she was writing at the time seems to be the equivalent of doing just that. I don’t think understanding Lispector as a person is integral to understanding her work, at least in the way that she understood it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Johannes

    Clarice Lispector is one of my favourite authors ever. «Agua Viva», was, is and will always be a landmark in my life. She is a genre in herself, how many writers in history took its readers to say such a thing? Very few, I promise. Her life, well, if not always happy was, of course, interesting. Something one would like to read about and yet, what Mr Moser produced was... this... anodyne... book!!! How did he get to write this tiresome book about her? That is a question we would never perhaps an Clarice Lispector is one of my favourite authors ever. «Agua Viva», was, is and will always be a landmark in my life. She is a genre in herself, how many writers in history took its readers to say such a thing? Very few, I promise. Her life, well, if not always happy was, of course, interesting. Something one would like to read about and yet, what Mr Moser produced was... this... anodyne... book!!! How did he get to write this tiresome book about her? That is a question we would never perhaps answer in full. As many others have already stated, I don't know why it was necessary for him to quote as much from her books, it gets you to guess why do you need to fill your work with that much of your subject's books. Wasn't her life enough? I do wonder... Don't read this book unless you had read every book from Clarice since it might spoils some of them for you, 2 books are almost quoted in full, which is in itself a pity. Since in his attempt to dissect them, he manages to make them not interesting at all. And that is, of course, the main issue here. This whole book was really boring. I don't know how many times I left it for other books since I couldn't manage to keep my attention focused on its pages, I actually lost track. And it pains me to say so, therefore I decided to finish this today come what may! And so I did. But no, I would not advice anyone to read it, I do hope it might come to the point to find a good writer that might do justice to Clarice's life, a proper biography about her life. PS: This is not in itself Mr Moser's fault, but I do find that Clarice's writing lacks something in anything but a romance language. Spanish and Portuguese are both rich languages when it comes to prose, and their ability to provide a writer with so many options, and I'm sorry, but having read the same book in the original language, and then found it quoted in English, it was not the same.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Myra Breckinridge

    Clarice Lispector left both a lot and little for her readers to sift through when trying to understand her. There are her books, subtly exploring her inner turmoil and personal experiences. There are her letters. There are remnants to form into a whole. Moser clearly admires his subject, but the clear takeaway in this bio is the question of whether we should try to understand her further than her own words - if we should dare to try and flesh out the story. Even in detail, CL remains elusive. Th Clarice Lispector left both a lot and little for her readers to sift through when trying to understand her. There are her books, subtly exploring her inner turmoil and personal experiences. There are her letters. There are remnants to form into a whole. Moser clearly admires his subject, but the clear takeaway in this bio is the question of whether we should try to understand her further than her own words - if we should dare to try and flesh out the story. Even in detail, CL remains elusive. This is a bio of fragments linked into sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. It's a barrage of names and situations surrounding her, not an exploration of her. After a clear exploration of her youth and the family and turmoil she came from, she becomes an impossible to catch figure--a Carmen Sandiego traveling the world, and through time, as others try to catch and encapsulate her. If you want to know Clarice, read her.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jasmine Woodson

    This wasn't very good as a biography. Everything aside from the (long and frequent) analytical passages concerning her work felt very.....procedural. I swear 1/4 of the text in this book is devoted just to the political situation of various parts of Eastern Europe and South America. But then I suppose that gets back to the 'Why read biography?' question. Perhaps Lispector as biographical subject seems...redundant and irrelevant since her work is so intimate and cosmological. I really liked the p This wasn't very good as a biography. Everything aside from the (long and frequent) analytical passages concerning her work felt very.....procedural. I swear 1/4 of the text in this book is devoted just to the political situation of various parts of Eastern Europe and South America. But then I suppose that gets back to the 'Why read biography?' question. Perhaps Lispector as biographical subject seems...redundant and irrelevant since her work is so intimate and cosmological. I really liked the passages concerning her as a mother, though.

  14. 5 out of 5

    M. Sarki

    Wonderful book, though quite sad, and nothing I would ever read again because of it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mina-Louise Berggren

    The difference in the tone of writing between this biography by Moser and his biography on Sontag is palpable and embarrassing in my opinion. There’s something so completely dull about biographies while at the same time as you feel that interest pulling you in, like wanting to know a piece of gossip which never actually is interesting. Clarice was brilliant, and did lead an unusual life, a combination which interests and is interesting... but I couldn’t manage to care. idk quarantine has broken m The difference in the tone of writing between this biography by Moser and his biography on Sontag is palpable and embarrassing in my opinion. There’s something so completely dull about biographies while at the same time as you feel that interest pulling you in, like wanting to know a piece of gossip which never actually is interesting. Clarice was brilliant, and did lead an unusual life, a combination which interests and is interesting... but I couldn’t manage to care. idk quarantine has broken my brain. And everything is unbearable at the moment. I will not read anything else by Moser.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Frederico

    To read Clarice Lispector is to glimpse an acute sensibility to the world as well as to taste the world anew through language. I'm lucky to be able to read her in my native Portuguese. This biography helps me understand her as a writer much better. It offers me the possibility of reading her work in context. I can now see all her works spread out as a constellation. This is a book for future referencing.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sunny

    Six stars. The book is a biography of Clarice Lispector who was originally a Ukrainian born Brazilian Jewish lady who came over into Brazil during the time of the Second World war. I've read quite a few books by her and in my opinion she has to be one of the best ever female writers the I've read. it's hard to explain why because her books are so subtle and nuanced. She has the ability to do what only a few writers can do which is that magical way of being able to paint an entire Panorama or vis Six stars. The book is a biography of Clarice Lispector who was originally a Ukrainian born Brazilian Jewish lady who came over into Brazil during the time of the Second World war. I've read quite a few books by her and in my opinion she has to be one of the best ever female writers the I've read. it's hard to explain why because her books are so subtle and nuanced. She has the ability to do what only a few writers can do which is that magical way of being able to paint an entire Panorama or vision of the scene that she's depicting By describing only a few simply chosen almost random words a description of one part and one small part of the entire scene. So she may describe a napkin falling from a table and the way she does it you can somehow envisage the entire restaurant bustling and moving. She clearly was a very unique individual and the book talks about her youth and her family and her background and how she really rocked the global literature scene with her debut novel and subsequent novels and the last one in particular. I really recommend you read her ASAP. Anyway here are some of the best bits from this particular biography. Respect even the bad parts of yourself : respect above all the bad parts of yourself. For the love of God don't try to make yourself perfect, don't copy an ideal, copy yourself, that is the only way to live. A horse acts only according to its nature, free of the artifices of thoughts and analysis and that is the freedom Clarice seems to long for: the freedom to do as she liked, yes, but more important the freedom from the shipwreck of introspection. She rather enjoyed England. This here is a typical small town, with a whiff of Bern. If we weren't going to be here for such a short time, it would be unendurable. Everyone is more or less ugly, wearing horrible hats, and with horrible clothes in the shop windows. But though Torquay is boring, I do like England. The lack of sun, certain beaches with dark rocks , the lack of beauty, it all moves me much more than the beauty of Switzerland. Speaking of which I hate it more and more. I hope to never return there. To Switzerland. The controlled tension between impulsiveness and reason was a source of her creative power but she always feared the danger. Those of her characters, Virginia, for instance, who tried to keep their intimate balance, always lost in the end. The difference between the Mystic and the madman is that the Mystic can return, emerging from the state of grace and finding a human language to describe it. The presentation of herself as lacking culture and erudition met with remarkable successful. none less than Elizabeth Bishop, her neighbour in Rio, wrote to Robert Lowell that Clarice is the most non literary writer I've ever known. And never cracks a book as we used to say. She's never read anything, that I can discover. I think she's a self taught writer like a primitive painter. Suspecting that the answers to the mute and intense question that had troubled her as an adolescent , what is the world like? And why this world? Could not be discovered intellectually, she sought a higher kind of understanding. You ought to know, a Spanish cabalist muttered at the end of the 13th century that these philosophers whose wisdom you are praising, end where we begin. You naturally know that drawing attention to oneself is not done and always gives a bad impression of a woman. Whether with scandalous clothing, exotic hairstyles , ways of walking, manners, rule after, any way of calling attention to oneself deserves, in shorts, nothing more than a prize for vulgarity. Clarisse had conceived civilization as essentially linguistic. Language builds the towns , literally. Lucretia indicated the intimate name of things. Reality required the girl in order to take a form. That civilisation crumbles when language is taken away. That problem of justice is in me as a feeling so obvious and so basic that I can't surprise myself with it, and without surprising myself, I just can't write. It seemed that I vaguely felt that while i had suffered physically in such an unendurable way that would be proof of living to the maximum. The pain was monstrous. But i'm not really enjoying this part with the mediocrity of living. However the dreamlike aguaviva is not hermetic in the least. It can be opened to any page, just as a painting can be viewed from any angle , and it pulses with a sensuality that gives it an unequalled and direct emotional appeal: I see that I've never told you how I listen to music , I press my hand lightly to the record player and my hand vibrates spreading waves through my whole body: that is how I hear the electricity of the vibration, last substratum in the domain of reality and the world trembles inside my hands. Daddy i made up a poem. What's it called? Me and the sun. Without waiting long I recited: “the hens who are in the yard ate two earthworms but I didn't see it.” She was increasingly becoming incapable of small talk. God death matter spirit were the subjects of her everyday conversation Last night I had a dream within a dream. I dreamed that I was calmly watching actors working on a stage. And through a door that was not locked men came in with machine guns and killed all the actors. I began to cry: I didn't want them to be dead. So the actors got up off the ground and said: we aren't dead in real life, just as actors , the massacre was part of the show. Then I dreamed such a good dream: in life we are actors in an observed play written by an absurd God. We are all participants in this Theatre: in truth we never shall die when death happens. We only dies actors. Could that be eternity? In near to the wild heart she gives an example of the Childs tendency to use words to evoke sensations , the word “lalande” which she invents and then defines: it's Angels tears. Do you know what Angel tears are? A kind of little Narcissus which the slightest breeze pushes from one side to the other. Lalande Is also the sea in the morning when no one has yet gazed upon the beach, when the sun is still to rise. Every time I say the word you should feel the fresh and salty breeze from the sea, you should walk along the still dark beach, slowly, naked . Soon you will feel it. You have to know how to feel, but you also have to know how to stop feeling, because if the experience is sublime it can also become dangerous. The man is punished for his crime because the state is stronger than he: the great crime of war is not punished, because beyond the individual there is mankind , and beyond mankind there is nothing else at all. And even the fatigue of life has a certain beauty when born alone and desperately. But together, eating everyday the same bread, watching one's own defeat in the defeat of others. Not to mention the weight of the habits reflected in the habits of the other the weight of the shared bed , the shared table , the shared life, preparing and threatening the shared death. I always said: never. Here we see the unmistakable imprint of spinoza, who equates nature with God and both with an absence of good and evil. All things which are in nature, are either things or actions. Now good and evil are neither things nor actions. There for good and evil do not exist in nature. I'm not enjoying travelling. I like to be there with you or with morrie. The whole world is lightly annoying it seems. What matters in life is being close to the people you love. That is the most important truth in the world. The truth is I don't know how to write letters about trips: the truth is I don't even know how to travel. It's funny how, passing through all those places I see very little, I think nature all looks pretty much alike and the things are all pretty much alike. I knew more about the veiled Arab woman when I was in Rio. Anyway I hope I'll never expect myself to take a stand. That would tie me. This whole month I haven't done anything, read anything, anything at all. This isn't travelling: travelling is leaving and going home whenever you want to go . Travelling is being able to move. But travelling this way is awful and like serving out a sentence in different places. The impressions you have after a year in a place end up killing your first impressions. At the end of it all you end up educated. But that's not my style. I never minded being ignorant. At age 91, Tonya still remembered her wonderment at her father's reaction when as a teenager she came out in favour of free love and proclaimed that she wasn't going to get married. From a girl in the small conservative Jewish community in Brazil in the 1930s, this was a provocation , and Tanya braced herself for the reaction. Our fathers would have beat a child who said something like that. I'm sure he was shocked but he asked why I thought that way full stopped we talked about it full stopped and then as I'm sure he knew I would to, I forgot about the whole thing. (The following is an extract from an interview you can see of clarice lispector on YouTube . It's got English subtitles.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1zwG... Do you ever write something only to tear it up again? I've put it aside or : no I tear things up she says annoyed. Is that reaction purely rational or more of a sudden emotion? Anger a little bit of anger. Her tone harden's, her eyes are downcast and her hands are fiddling with a packet of cigarettes . With whom? With myself why clarice? Who knows. I'm a little tired. Of work? Of myself. But aren't you born again and refreshed with every new work? Well. She takes a deep breath before finding looking up. For now I'm dead. Will see if I can be born again. For now I'm dead. I'm speaking from my tomb. The camera pans out to reveal a room as bare and silent as the room in which G H encountered the cockroach . The cameraman and Olga borelli said nothing as an intern stood softly crying. Clarisse whispered a request to Lerner that the footage be broadcast only after her death. The wish would be respected.

  18. 5 out of 5

    David

    A wonderful and gripping biography that includes thoughtful overview and analysis of all her works. But in some ways Moser is almost a little too forgiving, unwilling to let even a single one of her works be superfluous. We are always given a reason, sometimes fantastical, why each of her works follows "logically" one after the other--all in service to Lispector's philosophical or literary development. To be fair, she was a fantastic woman, and Moser does supply evidence for the chronology he bu A wonderful and gripping biography that includes thoughtful overview and analysis of all her works. But in some ways Moser is almost a little too forgiving, unwilling to let even a single one of her works be superfluous. We are always given a reason, sometimes fantastical, why each of her works follows "logically" one after the other--all in service to Lispector's philosophical or literary development. To be fair, she was a fantastic woman, and Moser does supply evidence for the chronology he builds--though it comes across as feeling a little too neat sometimes. One theme that comes up frequently in the book is her aversion to intellectualism. A curious thing, considering how highly educated she was, and how she never stopped seeking knowledge. She doesn't want her books to be academic enterprises--she scoffs at professors trying to parse her works at literary conferences (at one point going home to eat "an entire chicken" after being exhausted by what was being said), and there is also a part (which we have to admit is sort of cliche) where she envies a dog's innocence, and freedom to act upon its whims, not bogged down by years of education and human society. (Incidentally, dogs are only so carefree because they are pampered by humans--otherwise they'd have very pointed concerns. They are not necessarily carefree by nature--which is a silly assumption people often make). Yet, in spite of all this, at least in the United States, her work has become essentially an academic enterprise. They are not very accessible works. I was introduced to her work a few years ago by an doctoral candidate writing about her who once told me: "But you must read Deleuze before you can understand Clarice Lispector." Moreover, Lispector herself does not completely betray her education in her works. They are not necessarily always purely organic spiritual journeys. Moser points out that in some earlier works, she lifts entire passages from Spinoza, and places them into her work. But Moser also wants to give her the benefit of the doubt. There is no question of her intentions. It's almost as if he was afraid to question them, or say anything that might sound negative (beside pointing out that she could be a little annoying to her friends later in her life, or even rude to her ex-husband's new wife). He doesn't throw any hard punches at any point, even glossing over her drug dependency, without considering what effect it had on her character (or her work). I think a lot more could be said about Clarice (for such a huge figure, it was a pretty short biography), but it was still a great book. Well researched, and essential to any English-language fan of Clarice--maybe even a good place to start.

  19. 5 out of 5

    jeand99

    Jewish. Kabbalistic. Mystic. Void. Numerology. Ukraine. And Brazil. These are the categories that inspired Clarice Lispector life, living and writing. Inspired and determined partially - but not completely. Next to that, she was one-of-a-kind and original. Saturday I finished Benjamin Moser's book 'Why This World. A Biography of Clarice Lispector' (2009). I read this biography because I want to understand why Clarice (1920-1977) is so popular in Brazil. I encounter quotes from her books quite oft Jewish. Kabbalistic. Mystic. Void. Numerology. Ukraine. And Brazil. These are the categories that inspired Clarice Lispector life, living and writing. Inspired and determined partially - but not completely. Next to that, she was one-of-a-kind and original. Saturday I finished Benjamin Moser's book 'Why This World. A Biography of Clarice Lispector' (2009). I read this biography because I want to understand why Clarice (1920-1977) is so popular in Brazil. I encounter quotes from her books quite often from my Brazilian friends. To be honest I still don't understand. It must be her strange- or foreignness. Above all, her writing is very quotable just like Nietzsche. Why Clarice? Because in her works one finds the full range of human experience. She is like a mirror. As she said, "I am all of yourselves." (page 5) Jewish mystics: "The name of the thing is the thing, and by discovering the name one creates it. (...) The point where the name of a thing becomes identical to the thing itself, the "word that has its own light," is the ultimate reality. The discovery of the holy name, synonymous with God, was the highest goal of the Jewish mystics." (page 155) For Clarice her writing didn't bring what she wanted, which was peace. "My literature is in no sense a catharsis that would do me good and is useless as a form of liberation." (page 260) Was she a hermetic? Clarice: "I understand myself. Well, there's one story I don't understand, 'The Egg and the Hen,' which is a mystery to me." (page 278) Moser: "Much of Clarice Lispector's subsequent fame, her enduring popularity among a broad public, rests on this thin book, in which she managed to bring together all the strands of her writing and of her life. Explicitly Jewish and explicitly Brazilian, joining the northeast of her childhood with her Rio de Janeiro of her adulthood, "social" and abstract, tragic and comic, uniting her religious and linguistic questions with the narrative drive of her finest stories, 'The Hour of the Star' is a fitting monument to its author's "unbearable genius"." (page 372) Did you know ... that singer Maria Bethânia threw herself at the feet of Clarice exclaiming, "My goddess"? Did you know ... that singer Cazuza read her book 'Água viva'/ 111 times?

  20. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    In an emphatic and repetitive style, Moser does a good enough job introducing the fascinating worldly mystic Lispector, her works, and her times that I am eager to plunge into her considerable oeuvre. Lispector's life has all the elements of a good story. She was born in the Ukraine to a mother who had contracted syphilis from being raped in a pogrom. Clarice's family managed to emigrate to the far parts of Brazil where her mother survived only a few years and her father struggled to support his In an emphatic and repetitive style, Moser does a good enough job introducing the fascinating worldly mystic Lispector, her works, and her times that I am eager to plunge into her considerable oeuvre. Lispector's life has all the elements of a good story. She was born in the Ukraine to a mother who had contracted syphilis from being raped in a pogrom. Clarice's family managed to emigrate to the far parts of Brazil where her mother survived only a few years and her father struggled to support his three daughters by peddling. Raised by her sisters, Clarice published a wildly acclaimed novel, Near to the Wild Heart, at 21 and was beautiful enough to become one of the few Jewish wives in the Brazilian foreign service. In war-time Naples she tended the wounded in the hospital and was painted by Di Chirico. Torn between wildness and conformity, she produced two sons before leaving her husband at his post in Washington, DC, to return to her sisters and take up again her career as a journalist and avant garde novelist in Rio.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Robert Vaughan

    Oh man, what a life! First of all, gratitude to Bud Smith for sharing a photo and write-up of Lispector's book, The Hour of the Star. Among the many things I love about our writer pals, is getting turned on to new writers by them. The biography is complex. Deep. Disturbing. I don't want to give too much away. I was drawn to her life because what little I could find of her (only one interview on YouTube, e.g.) didn't seem enough. Come to find out, she was prolific, complex, experimental in her wo Oh man, what a life! First of all, gratitude to Bud Smith for sharing a photo and write-up of Lispector's book, The Hour of the Star. Among the many things I love about our writer pals, is getting turned on to new writers by them. The biography is complex. Deep. Disturbing. I don't want to give too much away. I was drawn to her life because what little I could find of her (only one interview on YouTube, e.g.) didn't seem enough. Come to find out, she was prolific, complex, experimental in her work, and never quite overcame her childhood in Ukraine, during the programs (how could anyone? What horrors...) and the move of her family to Brazil, which she claimed as her homeland. Again, why is this writer forgotten, only a few decades after she rose to such prominence? Read her! Read this! Keep her work alive.

  22. 5 out of 5

    BHodges

    "I know of many things I have never seen. And so do you. There is no proof of the existence of the truest thing of all; all we can do is believe." --Clarice Lispector Lispector is one of my favorite authors. Moser's biography was at turns engaging and frustrating for me. Sometimes his literary criticism got in the way, and he often used ten words where five would do, ten pages when two would do. But all things considered, I enjoyed learning about Clarice's life. The biographer's affection for the "I know of many things I have never seen. And so do you. There is no proof of the existence of the truest thing of all; all we can do is believe." --Clarice Lispector Lispector is one of my favorite authors. Moser's biography was at turns engaging and frustrating for me. Sometimes his literary criticism got in the way, and he often used ten words where five would do, ten pages when two would do. But all things considered, I enjoyed learning about Clarice's life. The biographer's affection for the subject was clear but did not prevent him from exploring the flattering and less flattering stories about Clarice. If you're not a fan of Clarice or familiar with her work, if you're not already drawn to her, don't start here.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    Critical biographies are, I think, often more about the biographer and his/her perspectives. The first third of this one had me believing it would be different. It's not. But, in spite of the critical slant seeking to "prove" Lispector's role as a "Jewish writer," and in spite of a real wont of editing that might have resulted in fewer repetitions, Lispector's life seems to shine through the verbiage. And it was an extraordinary writing life.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jane Ciabattari

    Another National Book Critics Circle finalist in biography, about the mysterious author likened to Kafka. Enthralling story, beautifully told.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    Its impossible to write a “good” book about Clarice Lispector, and to do so would be to fail her. No artist makes the concept of awarding stars for any artistic endeavor more clearly destructive of what such awards purport to indicate. It’s therefore perfectly Lispectorian to celebrate the note-perfect failure of this book with five meaningless stars and urge you to read it or die incomplete. To quote Clarice Lispector regarding her own work: “If this book ever comes out, may the profane recoil f Its impossible to write a “good” book about Clarice Lispector, and to do so would be to fail her. No artist makes the concept of awarding stars for any artistic endeavor more clearly destructive of what such awards purport to indicate. It’s therefore perfectly Lispectorian to celebrate the note-perfect failure of this book with five meaningless stars and urge you to read it or die incomplete. To quote Clarice Lispector regarding her own work: “If this book ever comes out, may the profane recoil from it. Since writing is a sacred thing no infidel can enter. I am making a really bad book on purpose in order to drive off the profane who want to ‘like.’ But a small group will see that this ‘liking’ is superficial and will enter inside what I am truly writing, which is neither ‘bad’ nor ‘good.’” To read Lispector’s work and see into her life the way Moser affords is to directly confront the horror of our culture in which liking (and “likes”) is the dominant currency. Clarice Lispector knew always the inadequacy of mere representation, however artful, and she spent much of her life drifting beyond the horizon of her mortality (and ours)—inhabiting imaginatively “this future of mine that shall be for you the past of someone dead”. If I have to quantify this biography or Lispector’s work, then I award infinite black holes and urge them to get busy gobbling stars and likes and cheerful thumbs up.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Castles

    If you like Clarice Lispector’s work, this book is a real page-turner. Of course one will enjoy it even better after reading most of her works since it’s not only biographical but also suggests a deep reading into her work, with psychological and literary analysis. Benjamin Moser is the right person at the right time to translate her works, write this biography with so much love and admiration, and put Clarice on the international English-speaking map. This book deserves the highest rating possi If you like Clarice Lispector’s work, this book is a real page-turner. Of course one will enjoy it even better after reading most of her works since it’s not only biographical but also suggests a deep reading into her work, with psychological and literary analysis. Benjamin Moser is the right person at the right time to translate her works, write this biography with so much love and admiration, and put Clarice on the international English-speaking map. This book deserves the highest rating possible. I didn’t know how much Clarice suffered. In that sense, this book portraits her as a “classic” case of a suffering artist, leading a crazy life but producing the best works of the 20th century. Reading about her early age and trauma, you can’t but feel compassion for the poor girl trying to save her mother, a motif that will come back in many shapes and forms later. I was amazed to find in one page an interesting anecdote, when Lispector writes all the good things that happened to her at a certain period, one of them is to get a message from the Argentinian author Julio Cortazar. I always wondered if there’s any connection between the two genius authors I love so much, and now I see there was. Without spoiling, I’ll just say the epilogue is amazing, touching and heartbreaking, leaving you with that feeling of being touched by the presence of a true artist, a real genius, a force of nature, the “Hurricane Clarice” as one critic once wrote.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This is an extraordinary biography of an extraordinary woman, Clarice Lispector. Born in Ukraine to a Jewish family who had (barely) survived pogroms, Clarice arrived in Brazil as a baby, before the age of one. She had no memory of the struggles her family experienced before her birth. But she experienced the struggles of her parents upon their arrival in Brazil, her father trying to make a living as a peddler, and her mother paralyzed by syphilis that she contracted when she was raped in a pogr This is an extraordinary biography of an extraordinary woman, Clarice Lispector. Born in Ukraine to a Jewish family who had (barely) survived pogroms, Clarice arrived in Brazil as a baby, before the age of one. She had no memory of the struggles her family experienced before her birth. But she experienced the struggles of her parents upon their arrival in Brazil, her father trying to make a living as a peddler, and her mother paralyzed by syphilis that she contracted when she was raped in a pogrom. Clarice grew up to become one of the most well-known Brazilian authors, known for her beauty, her intellectual capacity, her writing - which was probably/possibly more talked about than read. One of the fascinating aspects of this book is the way that the history of Ukraine during the Russian Revolution and Civil War, the family's immigration, life in Brazil in the early '20's, the life of Brazilian diplomates in Europe immediately after WW II, the dictatorship in Brazil in the 1960's - are explored and integrated fully into the life story of Lispector.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Fabio Saraiva

    Probably one of the best ways one could find to better understand Lispector's writing ways. Moser dedicated a huge amount of time in interviews and revisiting her works. Most part of the narrative comprises excerpts from her original publications, in an attempt to understand the author throughout her productions. This can be tricky because one of Lispector's many features include conscious efforts to unveil the language behind the language. It's an amazing reading, and I do recommend it for thos Probably one of the best ways one could find to better understand Lispector's writing ways. Moser dedicated a huge amount of time in interviews and revisiting her works. Most part of the narrative comprises excerpts from her original publications, in an attempt to understand the author throughout her productions. This can be tricky because one of Lispector's many features include conscious efforts to unveil the language behind the language. It's an amazing reading, and I do recommend it for those trying to venture themselves into the world of Clarice Lispector. By the way, it is pretty long. It took me nearly one year to finish it (mostly because I'm always busy, but even so). Don't rush yourself into reading this. Take your time as if you were having the opportunity to talk to Clarice herself. :)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    Well told story with some good analysis of Lispector's writing that is often in depth and relevant. The story of Lispector's life alone is interesting, the traumas, travels, Brazil's history blending with and impacting her life deeply such as being fired as a journalist by government censors. But the writings and influence they had on Latin America make this book stand out in it's attempt to making her work more understandable while retaining it's other worldliness. Highly recommended for anyone Well told story with some good analysis of Lispector's writing that is often in depth and relevant. The story of Lispector's life alone is interesting, the traumas, travels, Brazil's history blending with and impacting her life deeply such as being fired as a journalist by government censors. But the writings and influence they had on Latin America make this book stand out in it's attempt to making her work more understandable while retaining it's other worldliness. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Clarice Lispector's writings. Note: I read the Portuguese version

  30. 4 out of 5

    Viola

    “As time goes by, especially in the last few years, I’ve lost the knack of being a person. I no longer know how one is supposed to be. And an entirely new kind of ‘solitude of not belonging’ has started invading me like ivy on a wall....There is no right to punish. There is only the power to punish,' she wrote. 'A man is punished for his crime because the State is stronger than he; the great crime of War is not punished because beyond the individual there is mankind, and beyond mankind there is “As time goes by, especially in the last few years, I’ve lost the knack of being a person. I no longer know how one is supposed to be. And an entirely new kind of ‘solitude of not belonging’ has started invading me like ivy on a wall....There is no right to punish. There is only the power to punish,' she wrote. 'A man is punished for his crime because the State is stronger than he; the great crime of War is not punished because beyond the individual there is mankind, and beyond mankind there is nothing at all.” ― Benjamin Moser, Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector

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