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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Discovering more: Clarice Lispector

My introduction to Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector was the unfortunate volume, I'm a Box, by Natalia Carrero. In it, an earnest, inquisitive young woman discovers Lispector's writing and tries to become her biggest fan girl in this debut work of fiction. The text itself shies away from calling this a novel and that's an honest assessment. There is no narrative structure, no plot, no conflict outside young Nadila's wishes to be a writer as good as her role model.

In the closing pages, another reason for seeking kinship with the writer is revealed but, as with everything else in this work, nothing comes from it.

Just writing that someone is important to you and quoting from that person doesn't carry much weight. The narrator says she has learned more about herself from the experience of doing this writing, but what that was remains abstract. Lispector wrote abstract pieces herself, in addition to journalistic pieces, but the allure of her work isn't made clear in I'm a Box.

Communicating how she has grown in self-knowledge, and what that might mean to her future, or communicating why Lispector should be read today would have made for a successful work. What is communicated is the earnestness and sincerity of the writer's quest, but the results of that quest remain out of reach.
Fortunately, I discovered this morning that there may be more to Lispector's work. Volume 199 of The Paris Review includes two very short stories by Lispector, One Hundred Years of Forgiveness, and A Story of Great Love.                                                     

One Hundred Years is a quick remembrance of something the narrator did as a child -- steal single roses from gardens and, later, berries. How the idea to suddenly steal a beautiful rose, to possess such beauty for herself, and how both roses and berries are beautiful and nourishing for a fleeting time, give this very short work a gravitas that goes well beyond what a young girl does on impulse.

A Story of Great Love works similar magic in the tale of another young girl who loves the hens in her yard. Told in third person, this short story also reveals a greater truth through the prosaic circumstances of what inevitably happens to chickens. When it comes to both domestic fowl and their keepers, Lispector writes, "A hen is alone in the world."

Just as Lispector's two short stories go from the simple and everyday to greater truths, my reading experience here has shown me once again a greater truth: Sometimes an introduction is not the best way to judge what a writer, or any other person, has to offer to make my world richer.


  1. I lover her works and hope to read another next year as been a while since I read her and see some new translations due out ,all the best stu

  2. Hi Stu. Your recommendation means a lot. I'll look for those new translations.