The New York Times Book Review
Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispectorby Benjamin Moser
"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
"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.
The New York Times Book Review
The New York Times
This pioneering biography of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector (1920-1977)-a genius of character as much as a literary magician-captures the luminescent and singular author for an English-speaking audience that may not be familiar with her. She was born Chaya Pinkhasovna in 1921; soon after, her family left pogrom-torn Ukraine, arriving in Brazil in 1922. She became a law student seeking justice for prisoners and then a journalist, and in 1943, around the time of her marriage to a career diplomat, Lispector published her first book, the critically esteemed Near to the Wild Heart. The life of the roving diplomatic wife took its toll on the visionary and strikingly beautiful Lispector, who also had a longtime love for the homosexual poet Lúcio Cardoso among others. One of her sons was diagnosed as schizophrenic, which further fostered Lispector's sense of isolation. Among her champions was Elizabeth Bishop, but Lispector remains under the Anglo-American literary radar. This well-researched biography by Moser, New Books columnist for Harper's, should send readers in search of this indescribable author, whose work in many ways is closer to cabalistic writing than to more contemporary modernists like Woolf, Kafka or Joyce. 37 b&w photos. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"Why This World treats Clarice and her many mysteries very gently. Moser carefully unwraps the very raw, intimate character behind her very introspective books... An excellent feat of portraiture "Los Angeles Times
"This is rich biographical material that gets only richer as Mr. Moser, a translator and a book critic for Harper's Magazine, begins to unpeel the layers of her complicated life. 'Why This World' sucks you into its subject's stange vortex." The New York Times
"Benjamin Moser's Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector uncovers the iconic author's double life: the diplomat's wife in war-shattered Europe and the elusive genius who dramatized a fractured interior world in rich synthetic prose . . . her work lives on, still striking near to the wild heart." Megan O'Grady, Vogue
"[A] Pioneering biography of Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector (1920-1977). This well-researched biography by Moser, New Books columnist for Harper's, should send readers in search of this indescribable author." Publishers Weekly
"Beautifully rendered... Moser's richly contextualized, uniquely insightful, and haunting biography of mystic and writer Lispector resurrects a 'penetrating genius.'" Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
"A smart, passionate portrait of a truly remarkable writer. Lispector is a great subject, and Moser is the perfect biographer for her." Jonathan Franzen
"A biography worthy of its great subject ... One of the twentieth century's most mysterious writers is finally revealed in all her vibrant colors." Orhan Pamuk
"Rich in detail and original research and filled with sympathy for what must remain hidden and what must be understood. [Moser] has written a great book about a Jewish heroine whose family lived through some of the worst episodes of the last century in Europe; he has given also a fascinating account of modern Brazil where Lispector's work is treasured and her genius recognized." Colm Tóibín
"Benjamin Moser has recreated all the psychological and cultural context needed to understand this great writer, and brought to life her essentially tragic nature in all its complexity." Edmund White
"In Ben Moser, [Lispector] has found a gifted young biographer, social historian, and prose stylist who is able to take her elusive measure. This book is enthralling." Judith Thurman
"Elegantly written, carefully researched, [Moser's] complex and nuanced biography allows Lispector her essential mystery." The New Leader
"[An] absorbing and perceptive biography of a fascinating writer." The Economist
"A good introduction to an author worth knowing about." Library Journal
"Comprehensive, inspired, respectful of necessary silences Why This World does what Lispector set as a goal for her own writing: to leave unexplained what cannot be explained." Forward.com
"A comprehensive portrait." TexasMonthly.com
"In his stimulating new work, Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, Houston native Benjamin Moser recounts the extraordinary life story of a woman who is a legend in her beloved Brazil but barely known, much less read, in the United States. She is, Moser convincingly argues, uniquein Brazilian or any other literature." Houston Chronicle
"The attraction of a life story bouncing so wildly between the antipodes of high and low culture is obvious. However, while there have been a plethora of books, movies and TV shows about Lispector and her novels in Brazil, she has never made her mark in the United States. So the American publishing world must be a bit bemused that 'Why This World,' Benjamin Moser's recent biography of Lispector, has received more attention in major review outletsThe New York Times, the New York Review of Books, Texas Monthly, etc.than has been given to the whole of her works translated into English." Austin American-Statesman
"Lispector lived a large, glamorous and difficult life, which Benjamin Moser evokes in expressive detail, against a finely constructed historic and political backdrop. The biographer dives into the philosophical and theological concerns of his subject's literary output without skimping on the travails, pleasures and idiosyncrasies of her everyday life." Moment
"Latin America's premier female writer, Clarice Lispector, spent most of her fifty-seven years in Brazil, where she is a cult figure affectionately known today by her first name alone. Although Clarice's major works have been available in English translation for many years, that cult will undoubtedly receive a boost in North America with the publication of the first biography of her in English, Benjamin Moser's superbly documented, meticulously researched Why This World." Brown Alumni Magazine
"Benjamin Moser's contribution to the commentary is Why This World, a major biography that identifies Lispector as a mystic in the tradition of her Jewish forebears. Interlaid with brilliant quotations from Lispector's fiction, letters, and interviews, the book offers plenty of evidence of her passionate and sometimes desperate spiritual search." Rain Taxi
"Moser is clearly in love with Lispector, a condition that infuses the biography with an almost romantic spirit. As Clarice would have it, Moser learns from her, apprentices under her. While the level of research carried out is impressive, there is still a slight tentativeness about the biography that makes it more endearing. In these little uncertainties, Moser's love for Lispector emerges, and the passion for certain knowledge of his idolpaixão for Clariceshines through." The World
"A remarkable achievement...Benjamin Moser's beautifully written, sensitive, and impeccably researched biography unlocks the secret of the so-called Sphinx of Rio de Janeiro, bringing this complex, mysterious individual into precise focus, albeit without unsettling Lispector's allegiance to the unknowable. Moser strikes a balance between life chronology, social history, and literary criticism, which will appeal to longtime fans of Lispector and novice readers alike...An eloquent tribute to this author, who, in part due to Moser's admirable accomplishments, will justly join the ranks of the world's greats." Women's Review of Books
"The main strength of Why This World is its ability to impart an understanding of the significance of Clarice's literary innovation and the enigma of her personality. Moser, enchanted by the beautiful, secretive novelist and her mysterious writing, infuses his biography with a spell-binding quality, skillfully convincing readers of his subject's appeal." SHOFAR
"Moser's biography helps enlarge the audience for Lispector in English-language cultures...His empathy for Lispector renders her whole life of interest, without completely erasing the mystery that gained her the epithet of Sphinx. Tracing the multiple Clarices, Moser has enriched our ways of knowing not only her life but her work as well." Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas
"Moser's richly layered book chronicles the genius, the brilliance, and the mystery of Lispector. His splendid biography provides not only a portrait of a woman as an artist but also a first-rate social history of twentieth century Brazil and a brilliant history of Brazilian literature and the impulses of literary modernism as they are illustrated in Lispector's writings...Epic." Magill's Literary Annual
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Read an Excerpt
Fun vonen is a yid?
"Clarice was called alienated, cerebral, 'intimist' and tedious by hard-line Communist critics. She only reacted when offended by the stupid accusation that she was a foreigner." "She always got very annoyed when people suggested she wasn't entirely Brazilian," her closest friend wrote. "True, she was born in Russia, but she had come here when she was only two months old. She wanted to be Brazilian in every way." "I am Brazilian," she declared, "and that is that." "I was born in the Ukraine, my parents' country. I was born in a village called Chechelnik, so small and insignificant that it isn't even on the map. When my mother was pregnant with me, my parents were heading toward the United States or Brazil, they still hadn't decided. They stopped in Chechelnik so I could be born and then continued on their journey. I arrived in Brazil when I was only two months old." Though she had arrived in earliest infancy, Clarice Lispector always struck many Brazilians as foreign, not because of her European birth or the many years she spent abroad, but because of the way she spoke. She lisped, and her rasping, throaty r's gave her an odd accent. "I am not French," she explained, which is how she sounded. "This r of mine is a speech defect: I simply have a tongue-tie. Now that my Brazilianness has been cleared up . . ."
Meet the Author
Benjamin Moser is a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine and a contributor to the New York Review of Books and Condé Nast Traveler. His translation of The Hour of the Star inaugurated New Directions' Clarice Lispector series, of which he is the Editor. He lives in the Netherlands.
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