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Clarice Lispector

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My good friend in Hong Kong awakened me about Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian author who looked more than a movie star. Tall, bewitching, with green almond-shaped eyes and a guttural voice, she would have been mistaken as a Hollywood icon. Nearly 40 years after her death, in 1977, Lispector is now compared to Joyce and Borges. She is one of those out-dated authors who’s been forgotten. Her books were out-of-print until recent re-release by an independent publisher, New Direction Books. My few Brazilian friends have neither heard or her nor come across her. At the bookstore where I found the precious copies of hers the clerk said hardly anyone sought out her works.

But she must be important that Penguin Classics had caught the Clarice bug. Lispector was a myth who refused to talk about her past. Withdrawn, introspective, beautiful, she was hounded and fogged by rumors and conjecture. She was a communist, a pious Catholic, a lesbian, a man, a diplomat. She was born to a syphilitic mother in the tundra of Ukrainian village of Chechelnik. Her mother was an intellectual who was raped and infected by a gang of Russian (yes, RUSSIAN, again) soldiers in one of the pogroms that killed a 250,000 Jews that year in Ukraine.

She was made a Brazilian by marriage to a Brazilian diplomat. Her works echo the traumatized world in which she grew up. But unlike Borges, she avoided the conventional demands of narrative. Her focus was to live in the moment, musing in vague, self-replicating abstractions. She wrote novels that are fractured, cerebral, fundamentally non-narrative, and yet she has become like the Kafka of Brazil. She conveys a depth of the psychological complexity of the modern soul.

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