Why This World: A Biog­ra­phy of Clarice Lispector

  • Review
By – November 10, 2011

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

Chas­ing Clarice Lispec­tor

The Old­est Jews in Brazil

A Golem in Brazil

Arlene B. Soifer earned degrees in Eng­lish, and has had many years of expe­ri­ence as a free­lance writer, edi­tor, and pub­lic rela­tions professional.

Discussion Questions