A review of Benjamin Moser's "Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector".
"PREHUMAN divine life is a life of singeing nowness." Clarice Lispector, who wrote these words, was as enigmatic as they are. Benjamin Moser sets out to crack the enigma. One finishes his new biography largely persuaded by his solution while wishing that he had gone at the task a little less strenuously.Lispector, the "princess of the Portuguese language" and perhaps the first Latin American writer to be identified as a practitioner of magic realism, is one of the more obscure geniuses of modern letters. A Brazilian Jew, she fashioned strange, experimental novels and stories in elemental settings that seem only tangentially related either to Brazil or to Judaism. She proclaimed her Brazilianness more often and more forcefully than her Jewishness. But Mr Moser believes that her work is profoundly Jewish. He makes the case that her tragedies and philosophical concerns led her to create a body of work that belongs within the tradition of Jewish mysticism.Lispector was born in Ukraine to a family still reeling from the pogroms and plagues that followed the first world war and the creation of the Soviet Union. Her feet never touched Ukrainian soil, she insisted—she was a year old when the family fled. Her intellectually ambitious father turned to peddling in Brazil's poor north-east. Her mother, a secret writer herself, died slowly from syphilis caught from rape in the old country.