Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector

Oxford University Press  544


A good biography encompasses “life and times,” so that personality as well as locale live in the reader’s mind. Why This World brings to life Clarice Lispector, a remarkable and heralded writer who lived and wrote for 54 years in Brazil, but who is largely unknown here.

Clarice Lispector was a troubled, anxious, frightened Jew from Ukraine, whose apocalypse for Jews immediately after World War I rode through her earliest childhood, enveloping her in a lifetime caul, which she alternately stroked or pierced. Wending his way through her stories, poetry, novels, and journalism, Benjamin Moser, her biographer, translator, and champion, credits one of his college professors with revealing the Jewishness of Lispector’s imagery—arcane, edging toward Kabbalah, invoking Spinoza. 

She distilled and polished her “why” thoughts to an astonishing brilliance, opening her works to critical comparison with Kafka, Borges, and Joyce. Her creative life mixed anonymity, fame, and ever-present psychic pain. Yet Lispector’s extraordinary physical beauty and intelligence brought her glitter— as a Brazilian diplomat’s wife in Paris, Washington, and New York. Today in Brazil, a cult of claricianos has grown up.

Through Moser, a writer for Harper’s and the New York Review of Books, Clarice Lispector’s biography, Why This World, may become the catalyst moving Lispector into the Jewish literary pantheon in the United States. Acknowledgements, citations, illustrations, index, maps, notes.

Read Benjamin Moser's Posts for the Visiting Scribe

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