The Hour of the Star: reading group selection

So long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on writing. – Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star

The Book Beat reading group will meet on Wednesday, April 4th at 7:00 PM at the Goldfish Teahouse in Royal Oak, MI to discuss the novella THE HOUR OF THE STAR by Brazilian author Clarice Lispector (1920-1977) . For more information on the Book Beat reading group please call: 248-968-1190.

Narrated by the cosmopolitan Rodrigo S.M., this brief, strange, and haunting tale is the story of Macabéa, one of life’s unfortunates. Living in the slums of Rio and eking out a poor living as a typist, Macabéa loves movies, Coca-Cola, and her rat of a boyfriend; she would like to be like Marilyn Monroe, but she is ugly, underfed, sickly, and unloved. Rodrigo recoils from her wretchedness, and yet he cannot avoid the realization that for all her outward misery, Macabéa is inwardly free. She doesn’t seem to understand how unhappy she should be.

Lispector employs her pathetic heroine against her urbane, empty narrator – edge of despair to edge of despair – and, working them like a pair of scissors, she cuts away the reader’s preconceived notions about poverty, identity, love, and the art of fiction, taking readers close to the true mystery of life.

Saturday Review:

“An artist of vivid imagination. If her work is thoughtful and poetic, distinguished by touching insight and human sympathy, it is also full of irony and wild humor.”

The New Inquiry:

“The only antidote to stupidity is an agitated intelligence constantly prowling for blank spots in one’s outward seeming. The Hour of the Star is a romance, then, between stupidity and its neurotic observer, a restless stretching away from form, tradition, and the stupefying rules they impose on writing.”

The New York Times:

“Lispector is the premier Latin American woman prose writer of this century.”

“A new translation of Clarice Lispector’s searing last novel, The Hour of the Star by Lispector biographer Benjamin Moser—with an introduction by Colm Tóibín—reveals the mesmerizing force of the revitalized modernist’s Rio-set tale of a young naïf, who, along with the piquantly intrusive narrator, challenges the reader’s notions of identity, storytelling, and love.”

Lispector’s final novel was written before she knew she was dying of cancer. It is, nevertheless, a death book. Everything about The Hour of the Star hints at the final moment. More than the death of the body is tackled in it — the gradual death of hope and optimism. Its protagonist, Macabea, is so tragically ordinary, and painted with such violent malice by the male writer-narrator for being so ordinary, that by the end of this 90-page work this reader was left feeling sick. The tiny novel moves from incident to pointless incident without things ever turning out well for Macabea, and nobody (not her philandering boyfriend, not her workmate, not even the narrator who claims to imagine her whole life story out of a single memory of a girl he once saw) seems capable of caring about her. From the novel’s opening pages — which bounce about aimlessly as the narrator flexes his muscles and indulges in all manner of philosophical trickery — to the last paragraph, wherein we are reminded, immediately after the absurd but tragic final scene, that we are in the season for strawberries, there is no drop of hope for Macabea. She is an antiheroine simply because there’s nothing heroic about her, yet she is also not a villain. Macabea is the loneliest character in her world of lonely characters. – Source: Phil Jourdan,   One of the darkest novels about human goodness

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Clarice Lispector, is recognized as one of Latin America´s greatest writers and is only now being discovered by English readers, surprising given that “Clarice’s beauty, genius, and eccentricity intrigued Brazil virtually from her adolescence.”

Born into a Jewish family amidst the horrors of post-World War I Ukraine, Chaka Lispector was to escape to Brazil in 1922 and be re-named Clarice. She was to spend many if her early years living a humble existence in Northeast Brazil. First in Maceió, Alagoas, then three years later in the Jewish neighbourhood of Boa Vista in Recife, Pernambuco, where a monument to her exists today.

Whilst in Recife, her mother died (1930) at the age of forty-two, when Clarice was nine years old. Her father continued to struggle economically, but Clarice was still able to attend the Colégio Hebreo-Idisch-Brasileiro, which taught Hebrew and Yiddish in addition to the usual subjects. In 1932, she gained admission to the Ginásio Pernambucano, the most prestigious secondary school in the state at the time. A year later, she “consciously claimed the desire to write.”

In 1935, Pedro Lispector decided to move his family to the then-capital, Rio de Janeiro, where he hoped to find greater prosperity for them. There Clarice became a law student seeking justice for prisoners and then a journalist.

In 1943, around the time of her marriage to a diplomat, she published her first book, the critically acclaimed Near to the Wild Heart. Success in her career was not reflected in her challenging family and personal life. She had a long-time love for the homosexual poet Lúcio Cardoso among others, and one of her sons was diagnosed as schizophrenic fostering a growing sense of isolation in her.

Several of Lispector’s works relate to her time in Northeast Brazil. Perhaps most famous of them was The Hour of the Star. Macabéa’s story is one of the most famous in Brazilian literature although Lispector is probably better known for her short collection, Family Ties, which has been called “the best book of stories ever published in Brazil.” She has been described as, “that rare person who looked like Marlene Dietrich and wrote like Virginia Woolf” although what attracted me to her in the first place was a quote by the French literary critic and philosopher Hélène Cixous who said:

I discovered an immense writer, the equivalent for me of Kafka, with something more: This was a woman, writing as a woman. I discovered Kafka and it was a woman.

biographic source: The Truth About Lies


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