Meg's Blog

The Other Clarice

Thanks so much for the love, everyone who wrote me with tips on what to wear during my book tour in Brazil over the next two weeks! I think I’m going to be fine.

But if not I’ll know who to blame! (Ha, just kidding.)

Anyway, now that I’ve got the clothing down, I’ve realized I still need to learn Portuguese.

Fortunately there’s YouTube, and this amazing(ly boring, but helpful) video:

So I’ve got the basics (kind of).

The two top questions Brazilian interviewers keep asking me (in English, thankfully) are:

#1. What books have you read by Brazilian writers, and

#2. Do you know any Brazilians?

Weirdly, I don’t usually remember the nationality of the authors I read. Do you? I can’t remember ever going around saying, “I just read this great book! It’s by a Canadian.”

But I do recall reading a book of short stories (Family Ties) by an author called Clarice Lispector who was Brazilian (she died in 1977).

I wonder if she’s required reading in Brazilian schools?

Anyway, I liked her because:

a) Her writing seemed pretty sarcastic (the story about the world’s tiniest woman? And the other one, about the chicken?) and yet moving.

Here is Clarice, left, looking fancy at a party.

b) Many of her short stories seem at first glance to be about…nothing. A woman putting her tiresome mother on the train after a visit. A teenaged girl who wants to be invisible, so her wooden heeled shoes, which click-clack as she makes her way to school, drawing the notice of teenaged boys, will not do.

But the stories are actually about a lot.

Here is Clarice looking fancy at the beach.

c) Clarice was Jewish and extremely fancy and glamorous.

And it cannot go unsaid that she once lit herself on fire after falling asleep while smoking, which only adds to her exotic mystique.

Quote from Clarice: “I am so mysterious that even I don’t understand myself.”

And of course, she has the same name as the other Clarice, the one from Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling, who catches the worst serial killer of all time.

Coincidence? I think not.

If you want to know more about the original Clarice, read one of her books (my friend Michael swears by “The Hour of the Star”), obviously, or the new biography about her called Why This World, by Benjamin Moser, which is in stores now. Here’s a review of it:

What the legendary soccer player Pelé is to sport in Brazil, the author “Clarice” is to that country’s literary culture. Stunningly brilliant, beautiful and enigmatic, the daughter of Russian-Jewish émigrés achieved instant celebrity at the age of 23 with the publication of her debut novel Near to the Wild Heart. From that auspicious beginning in 1943, she emerged during the post-war decades as one of Latin America’s greatest modernist writers and ambassadors of Brazilian culture and avant-garde thought. But, with only a few of her works available in translation, Clarice Lispector (1920-1977) has remained unknown to most English readers until now. Benjamin Moser’s Why This World makes up for this long drought by offering a detailed and dramatic biography of Lispector’s incredible life and times. Based on new interviews with family and friends, recovered manuscripts, and other fresh sources, Moser crafts a moving and tangible portrait of the famously inscrutable Clarice. —Lauren Nemroff

(Confidential to college students taking creative writing workshops: If you’re required to bring in a short story by a “favorite writer” to share with the rest of the class, my favorites were always “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” by Flannery O’Connor; “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad; and, if you want to freak the class the heck out but impress the instructor, anything by Clarice Lispector. Go for it.)

As to the second question, “Do you know anyone from Brazil?” I do! I know thousands of readers who’ve emailed me, maybe even tens of thousands!

But if you mean personally, I do know a young Brazilian woman who moved to the US knowing next to no English, but was nevertheless determined to make a life for herself, and opened her own restaurant in New York City which became a sort of neighborhood hangout for a lot of celebrities (including some who’ve been in the tabloids recently and whom I’ve mentioned on this blog)!

I think this kind of chutzpah is typically Brazilian. Nothing can stop a Brazilian!

Anyway, our friend’s restaurant is where He Who Shall Not Be Named In This Blog and I used to go almost every Tuesday night until closing (full disclosure: she married a friend of ours). Afterwards, we’d all hit the town.

That’s how we started calling Tuesday nights Danger Night, because we’d usually be out until 4AM (this wasn’t good, since some us had to work the next day).

So, that’s the story of my favorite Brazilian author and my friend from Brazil.

I think Clarice Lispector would have appreciated Danger Night immensely.

See you in Rio!

More later.

Much love,