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The Voice of the COMMUNITY c ic’ y oop REVIEW Becoming Brazilian BY RYLAND BARTON Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector By Benjamin Moser Oxford University Press USA 496 pages, $29.95 The Brazilian author Clarice Lispector is not well known in the United States, but in her native land she is considered part of a Latin American vanguard that includes Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda and Jorge Borges. Lispector’s prosewith its open form, lyricism, and mystical metaphorstranscended narrative and meaning and suggested the presence of magical narratives in everyday life. In Why This World, Benjamin Moser sets out to explain how Lispector became the emblem of Brazil’s mid-loth-century cultural revolution through her peculiar prose, mysterious personality and legendary physical beauty. Moser attributes Lispector’s fame largely to the very thing she tried to squelch: her desperate origins. Her parents, Ukrainian Jews, were driven from their home in 1919 by the pogroms that terrorized Eastern Europe. Lispector, born during her family’s escape, would have no memory of Europe, arriving in Brazil before she was 2 years old. But Moser argues that, nonetheless, her background gave her writing a distinctly European flavor that made her stand out among her contemporaries. Lispector’s first book, Near to the Wild Heart, became a sensation because of what Moser calls the .”strangevoice and foreign climate” of her language. Clarice tells the story of Joana, who, through a series of episodic flashes, relates her intense emotional state and conflicted outlook on marriage, life and society. “There will be no space inside me for me to know that time, men, dimensions, exist, there will be no space inside me to so much as notice that I will be creating instant by instant, no instant by instant: always molten, because then I shall live, only then shall I live more fully than childhood …” Lispector’s writing was different from that of any Brazilian author, comparisons were made to to Joyce, Woolf and Dostoevsky. However, Lispector’s lush stream-of-consciousness style would later become, as Moser says, “naturalized as that of a great Brazilian writer.” Moser notes that her unusual prose incited a fascination with Lispector’s personality and origins. He cites Brazilian poet Ledo Ivo, who said, “There will probably never be a tangible and acceptable explanation for the language and style of Clarice Lispector. The foreignness of her prose is one of the most overwhelming facts of our literary history, and, even, of the history of our language.” Lispector, on the other hand, resented being labeled a foreigner, even if it was said in praise. Moser writes that “there was no characteristic Clarice Lispector might have wanted to lose more than the place of her birth.” Lispector even took speech lessons to correct a slight accent inherited from her parents. When readers attempted to draw autobiographical information from Lispector’s novels, she would respond with linguistic puzzles: “The I who appears in this book is not I. It is not autobiographical, you all know nothing of me. I never have told you and I never shall tell you ‘who I am. I am all of yourselves.” If Lispector resented the speculation about her early escape from Europe, it’s also clear that she also loved to draw from her past in elaborate paradoxes, such as this one from her novel Agua viva: “this is not a story because I don’t know any stories like this, but all I know how to do is go along saying and doing: it is the story of instants that flee like fugitive tracks seen from the window of a train.” Moser claims that what makes Lispector’s literature so enigmatic is a “fundamentally different conception of art.” But Clarice distanced herself from OCTOBER 30, 2009 TEXASOBSERVER.ORG 25