Criticism & Features

Year 2009: 30 Books

Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, by Benjamin Moser

By Rigoberto Gonzalez

Each day leading up to the March 11 announcement of the 2009 NBCC award winners, Critical Mass highlights one of the thirty finalists. Today, NBCC board member Rigoberto González discusses Benjamin Moser's Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector (Oxford University Press).

Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector CoverCalled simply Clarice by those who adored and admired her in Brazil and throughout Latin America, Lispector worked hard to fuel her legendary status up until the year of her death from cervical cancer in 1977. No one knew better than she about the benefits of constructing an elusive and mysterious persona that generated interest and intrigue at a time when men dominated the literary scene. If males were going to claim the public, she was going to claim the public imagination. This strategy, however, also had a drawback: namely, that the readership fell in love more with the idea of a beautiful woman named Clarice than with the writer’s ideas.

Benjamin Moser works diligently to examine the many sides of Clarice Lispector–from the enigmatic (and sometimes difficult) woman who channeled her unconventional feminist thought and personal demons onto the page, to the surprisingly reclusive figure with a love-hate relationship to the spotlight, who nonetheless participated in political and social causes. Moser allows Lispector to remain a woman of daunting contradictions and unravels instead a complex portrait of an artist whose aesthetic and inventiveness were way ahead of her time.

Moser’s fluid and addicting prose rarely falters as he follows Lispector relentlessly from country to country, book to book, headache to heartache, keeping a respectful distance from the private dramas of the writer he admires, but mining thoroughly the subtle nuances and hard-to-find revelations within Lispector’s work. The intersections of fact and fabrication, life and literature, are skillfully pulled apart by this sensitive and intelligent biographer, who highlights, above all else, Lispector’s dignity and creative drive.

By presenting such a classy and accessible study of this popular Latin American author, Moser will undoubtedly renew interest in Lispector’s work, most of which remains untranslated into English or only feebly available. And for those who have not yet met or heard of Clarice, Moser’s impressive biography is indeed a memorable introduction.

More: Benjamin Moser in More Intelligent Life on Why You Should Know Clarice Lispector

From 1977, here's Clarice Lispector interviewed on Brazilian TV