Book Forum has a profile of Clarice Lispector and an overview of the latest translations:
CLARICE LISPECTOR had a diamond-hard intelligence, a visionary instinct, and a sense of humor that veered from naïf wonder to wicked comedy. She wrote novels that are fractured, cerebral, fundamentally nonnarrative (unless you count as plot a woman standing in her maid’s room gazing at a closet for nearly two hundred pages). And yet she became quite famous, a national icon of Brazil whose face adorned postage stamps. Her first novel, Near to the Wild Heart, appeared in 1943 and was an immediate and huge sensation, celebrated as the finest Portugese-language achievement yet in, as one critic put it, penetrating “the depths of the psychological complexity of the modern soul.” She struggled to get her subsequent novel published, after marrying a diplomat and moving first to Italy, then Switzerland, then Washington, DC. But her return to Brazil in 1959, after divorcing in order to give herself over to her drive to write, commenced a decade when she was at the absolute peak of Brazilian literary society, considered one of the nation’s all-time greatest novelists, and contributing a weekly column (crónica) to Rio’s leading newspaper. The Brazilian singer Cazuza read Lispector’s novel Água Viva 111 times. Lispector was translated by the poets Giuseppe Ungaretti and Elizabeth Bishop, and in Rio she was a known and recognizable celebrity. A woman once knocked on her door in Copacabana and presented her with a fresh octopus, which she then proceeded to season and cook for Lispector in her own kitchen.
An exhaustive and fascinating biographical account of Lispector’s mysterious existence,Why This World, by Benjamin Moser, was widely reviewed when it came out in 2009, and for a moment, many more people in the US had read about Clarice Lispector than had actually read her work. Now, Moser has overseen new translations of five of Lispector’s nine novels, Near to the Wild Heart, The Passion According to G. H. (1964), Água Viva(1973), The Hour of the Star (1977), and A Breath of Life (1978), which has never before appeared in English. This is a lucky moment. It’s much better to start with Lispector herself, in her own words. That said, readers who encounter the novels will likely be driven to read Moser’s biography as well, in order to know who is behind the curtain of that voice, which is so curiously personal and private, the inner voice of the quietest moment of rumination. “Could it be that what I am writing to you is beyond thought?” she writes inÁgua Viva. “Reasoning is what it is not. Whoever can stop reasoning—which is terribly difficult—let them come along with me.”