Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser - review by Patricia Duncker

Patricia Duncker

The Hour of the Star

Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector


Haus 479pp £20 order from our bookshop

Who was Clarice Lispector? Readers who are not Brazilian may be forgiven for asking. I first encountered Lispector (1920–77) in the late 1970s, when she was taken up and celebrated by exponents of écriture féminine in France. Hélène Cixous declared that Lispector embodied what Kafka would have been if he had been a woman, ‘if Rilke had been a Jewish Brazilian born in the Ukraine. If Rimbaud had been a mother … If Heidegger could have ceased being German.’ In one of her lectures in 1984 Cixous declared that she would no longer continue to give her literary seminars ‘if a sufficiently wide world was reading Clarice Lispector’. Lispector is a constant point of reference for Cixous, in whom the writer has found her most devoted reader. Lispector’s early work has been compared to Woolf, Sartre, Proust and Joyce, none of whom she had read until she found herself associated with their influence. Her writing, notoriously difficult to translate from her distinctive, innovative Brazilian Portuguese, has attracted far more serious critical attention in France than in Britain. English translations are hard to come by, and Haus Publishing are to be congratulated on reissuing Gregory Rabassa’s translation of her fourth novel, The Apple in the Dark (A Maçã no Escuro, 1961), to coincide with their publication of Benjamin Moser’s enthralling biography. 

Moser was able to interview friends, relatives and survivors, people who knew Clarice Lispector and who witnessed many of the events in her life. His decision to offer his readers an instant, detailed education in Brazilian history, literature and culture is a wise one. While more knowledgeable readers

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