The Schmooze

Clueless Clarice: Inspecting Lispector’s 'Jewish Mysticism'

Last year “Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector” (Oxford University Press) appeared to qualified praise. Readers and critics alike took issue with the biographer’s otiose portrait of Lispector as a Jewish mystic, even one of the tzaddikim, “bearers of that irrational something.”

Lispector, originally named Chaya, was born to Pinkhas and Mania Krimgold Lispector in Chechelnyk, a shtetl in what is today Ukraine. When she was one year old, Chaya’s family fled Ukraine’s pogroms and resettled in Brazil where Lispector remained, never revisiting the old country in body or spirit. An invaluable collection of Lispector’s letters, newly translated into French as “Le seul moyen de vivre: Lettres,” (Bibliothèque Rivages) reveals the full extent of her divorce from heritage and history.

Leading a cosmopolitan expatriate life in Europe during the war, Lispector writes home to Brazil in May, 1945, describing how she busily posed for a portrait painted by Giorgio de Chirico, adding that in another letter penned that very morning, she forgot to mention the incidental news that World War II had ended. Lispector adds that in Rome that day, “there were no celebrations…in a certain sense, Italy was defeated.” In a certain sense (!)

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Clueless Clarice: Inspecting Lispector’s 'Jewish Mysticism'

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