Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Destination: Brazil

I was recently introduced to Clarice Lispector, “that rare person who looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf,” as one translator described the Brazilian writer. I met her through The Hour of the Star, her last work of fiction, written shortly before she died in 1977 of a cancer she did not know she had. The narrator of this stunning novella hauntingly calls Death his favorite character, and does not fail to give that dark shade the lead by the end of the book.

The Hour of the Star is as much about life as it is about death, however, and as much about writing a story as it is a story itself, that creative process in which an author breathes life into their characters. "All the world began with a yes," Lispector begins, "One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born." Her narrator struggles throughout the book to bring his character, a poor northeastern girl named Macabea, to life, to an awareness of self. At first Macabea barely knows enough to realize how desperate her situation as a destitute typist in Rio de Janeiro is, but every once in awhile, amidst the squalor, she comes close to showing signs of a soul, moments that her narrator marks with a parenthetical (explosion), as brilliant against the stark back drop as the burst of a star being born.

Clarice Lispector
I was going to introduce you to Lispector, the mysterious author behind this narrator and his character, but the best way to encounter this elusive writer seems to be through her work itself. You can read Benjamin Moser's fascinating biography on her, Why This World, but even Moser admits his subject can be frustratingly hard to capture, quoting Helene Cixous's attempt to define Lispector: "if Rilke had been a Jewish Brazilian born in the Ukraine. If Rimbaud had been a mother, if he had reached the age of fifty. If Heidegger could have ceased being German."

You'll just have to track Lispector down in our Destination Literature section where she waits with a compelling air among other South American authors, from Jorge Luis Borges and Juan Jose Saer (Argentina) to Romulo Gallegos and Alberto Barrera Tyszka (Venezuela). Across the aisle you can find several different travel guides to Brazil and its major cities, including Rio de Janeiro--so you don't end up as lost as poor Macabea. And if you want more travel advice and anecdotes from the country, check out Moon.com's expert blogger Michael Sommers who writes weekly on "The Thrill of Brazil."


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