Lipstick Traces

Novelist Clarice Lispector's radiant nothingness

lispector_passion coverCLARICE LISPECTOR had a diamond-hard intelligence, a visionary instinct, and a sense of humor that veered from naïf wonder to wicked comedy. She wrote novels that are fractured, cerebral, fundamentally nonnarrative (unless you count as plot a woman standing in her maid’s room gazing at a closet for nearly two hundred pages). And yet she became quite famous, a national icon of Brazil whose face adorned postage stamps. Her first novel, Near to the Wild Heart, appeared in 1943 and was an immediate and huge sensation, celebrated as the finest Portugese-language achievement yet in, as one critic put it, penetrating “the depths of the psychological complexity of the modern soul.” She struggled to get her subsequent novel published, after marrying a diplomat and moving first to Italy, then Switzerland, then Washington, DC. But her return to Brazil in 1959, after divorcing in order to give herself over to her drive to write, commenced a decade when she was at the absolute peak of Brazilian literary society, considered one of the nation’s all-time greatest novelists, and contributing a weekly column (crónica) to Rio’s leading newspaper. The Brazilian singer Cazuza read Lispector’s novel Água Viva 111 times. Lispector was translated by the poets Giuseppe Ungaretti and Elizabeth Bishop, and in Rio she was a known and recognizable celebrity. A woman once knocked on her door in Copacabana and presented her with a fresh octopus, which she then proceeded to season and cook for Lispector in her own kitchen.

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Published in: Bookforum
By: Rachel Kushner