American Takes On Lispector in Biography

“It was during a reading of A Hora da Estrela (The Hour of the Star), 15 years ago, that the American journalist and critic Benjamin Moser saw himself taken by an impetuous passion for the work and personality of Clarice Lispector. These are the kinds of passions that make us travel the world and spend our money, in a way that asks us not to do any accounting and to deliver ourselves to the object of our passion. That’s how Moser, who lives in Holland, became Clarice’s worldwide “embassador”. At the end of last year, he launched the biography titled ‘Why This World’. In Brazil, it was titled “Clarice,” (Clarice with a comma) by Cosac Naify.

The biography is the result of a study that started in 2005, and includes trips to 6 countries where Clarice lived, as well as interviews and a collection of material, an effort that resulted in a chronology of two-thousand pages.

His compliments to her come close to devotion. For Moser, Clarice represents three changes in his life: the discovery of an author that created her own language; the awakening of a will to speak and write in Brazilian Portuguese; and the desire that Brazil should be recognized not only for its attributes such as nature, soccer and Carnival. Traveling through the country, Moser was one of the most well-disposed names at the FLIP festival in Paraty, between August 4th and 8th, when he gave an interview with Língua magazine.” – Source (in PT, interview here)

More Info

Why This World – Amazon
Interview w/ Author (in PT)

Brazil on the Rise – Larry Rohter

“When Larry Rohter stepped down as The New York Times’ Brazil bureau chief in 2008, he was easily the most reviled foreign correspondent in the country. Despite years of balanced, in-depth reporting about Latin America’s largest country, an oddly sourced article he wrote maintaining that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had a drinking problem exploded into a national scandal.

Rohter’s turbulent foreign correspondency, however, does little to color his perceptions, and his new book is a fair and fairly boosterish introduction to a nation long reputed to be the “country of the future.” The book takes the viewpoint that “maybe, just maybe, the future has finally arrived.”

Rohter does a good job of summing up Brazil’s history and idiosyncrasies before embarking on a powerful and well-informed argument about the state of Brazil’s economy and why the country with its vast array of natural resources now seems poised to achieve world power status. Having vanquished the staggering inflation that long plagued the country in the mid-1990s, Brazil now boasts having “one of the most balanced and diversified economies in the world.”

Exports are booming, the country’s foreign reserves exceed $250 billion and Sao Paulo’s stock exchange stock rose by 87 percent in 2009.

The country is also brimming with energy: Hydroelectric dams are being built across the Amazon basin, vast quantities of sugarcane-based ethanol power much of Brazil’s automobile fleet and massive oil reserves were recently discovered off the coast. That Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup and Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Olympics only seems to confirm that the long-awaited future has arrived.

But later chapters present a more complicated picture, with Rohter painting a fairly damning portrait of Brazil’s stewardship of the Amazon rain forest and the country’s highly dysfunctional political system. Bureaucracy, corruption and a tremendous social debt still have the potential to squander Brazil’s substantial gains — returning the country to the boom-and-bust cycles it has suffered for centuries.” – Source

After 1808 Comes…1822!

You may recall a post I did last year on a wonderful history book I read by Laurentino Gomes called 1808, about “how a crazy queen, a fearful prince, and a corrupt court deceived Napoleon and changed the history of Portugal and Brazil”. Well, he sold 600,000 copies in Brazil and another 50,000 in Portugal, quit his job and dedicated the next few years to researching material for 1822. Initially, he read 100 books in order to write 1808 and for the follow-up, he read another 70! In an interview, he says that reading is fine and dandy but it is also important to visit all the places that he reads about because while many have changed in the last 150 years, there are still small signs of the past that remain for those who know what to look for.


His follow-up is about “how a wise man, a sad princess and a money-hungry Scotsman, helped Don Pedro to create Brazil – a country that had everything to go wrong”.

“In this new adventure through history, Laurentino Gomes, the author of the best-selling book “1808”, directs the reader on a journey through the independence of Brazil. The result of three research papers and composed of 22 chapters, interspersed with factual illustrations and characters of the time, the work covers a period of 14 years, between 1821, the date of the return of the Portuguese Court of Dom João VI to Lisbon, to 1834, the year of the death of Emperor Pedro I. This books looks to explain how Brazil succeeded in maintaining the integrity of its territory and establishing itself as an independent nation in 1822″, explains the author. “The independence resulted from a notable combination of luck, chance, improvisation, and also from the wisdom of some of the leaders responsible for driving the destiny of the country in that moment of grand dreams and dangers.”

More Info

1808 – EOB
Laurentino Gomes – official site
Journey of a Voyage to Brazil – Maria Graham

Pan-Amazonian Book Fair in town!

One of the largest literary fairs in the country is in Belém at the Hangar (Center of Conventions & Amazonian Fairs) starting tomorrow November 6th, 2009 and lasting 10 days. In accordance with Brazil’s Year of France, the Book Fair will be the official closing event which promoted French culture in Brazil and several notable French authors will be in attendance. The 13th edition of the Fair will include 176 stands and the participation of 112 expositions (57 of which are national and 55 being regional). Over half a million people are expected and R$25 million is expected to exchange hands, in accordance with last years numbers.

The event will also include Literary Meetings with the likes of Ariano Suassuna, Emir Sader, Moacir Scliar, Zeca Caramago, Frei Betto, Zuenir Ventura, Laurentino Gomes, Cristovam Tezza and Sérgio Nogueira. Each event will happen at 8PM in the auditorium on the 2nd floor. Also, pocket shows with musical guests Lenine (the 6th) and João Bosco (the 14th) are scheduled.

Entrance is free and the Hangar is open from 10AM to 10PM everyday. The Hangar is located at Av. Dr. Freitas, S/N (Sem Número meaning no number).

Official Site:

Official Schedule (PDF. in Port.)

1808 – The royal family in Brazil

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I wanted to share a good find with my readers, it’s called 1808 and as the title says, it’s about “how a crazy queen, a fearful prince and a corrupt court deceived Napoleon and changed the history of Portugal and Brazil.” The 10 year study was done by Laurentino Gomes and at this point, I believe it’s only available in Portuguese.

I’m only 50 pages into it (out of 414 pages), but so far, it’s quite interesting and easy enough to understand. On Amazon at this moment, there are 3 copies available (although the price is a bit high). If you can get your hands on it, it gives an insightful set-up for those wishing to learn about how Brazil has changed (and even how it hasn’t).

And for those who are more visually-oriented, there’s a 4-part documentary on Youtube (in PT) on the book.

Machado de Assis – Best of Brazilian Lit.

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, often known as Machado de AssisMachado, or Bruxo do Cosme Velho, (June 21, 1839, Rio de Janeiro—September 29, 1908, Rio de Janeiro) was a Brazilian novelist, poet and short storywriter. He is widely regarded as the most important writer of Brazilian literature. However, he did not gain widespread popularity outside Brazil in his own lifetime.

Machado’s works had a great influence on Brazilian literary schools of the late 19th century and 20th century. José Saramago, Carlos Fuentes, Susan Sontag and Harold Bloom are among his admirers and Bloom calls him “the supreme black literary artist to date.”


Machado is said to have learned to write by himself, and he used to take classes for free will. He learned to speak French first and English later, both fluently. He started to work for newspapers in Rio de Janeiro, where he published his first works and met established writers such as Joaquim Manuel de Macedo.

Machado de Assis married Carolina Xavier de Novais, a Portuguese descendant of a noble family. Soon the writer got a public job and this stability permitted him to write his best works. Machado de Assis began by writing popular novels which sold well, much in the late style of José de Alencar. His style changed in the 1880s, and it is for the sceptical, ironic, comedic but ultimately pessimistic works he wrote after this that he is remembered: the first novel in his “new style” was Epitaph of a Small Winner, known in the new Gregory Rabassa translation as The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas (a literal translation of the original title, Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas). In their brilliant comedy and ironic playfulness, these resemble in some ways the contemporary works of George Meredith in the United Kingdom, and Eça de Queirós in Portugal, but Machado de Assis’ work has a far bleaker emotional undertone. Machado’s work has also been compared with Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.

Machado de Assis could speak English fluently and translated many works of William Shakespeare and other English writers into Portuguese. His work contains numerous allusions to Shakespearean plays, John Milton and influences from Sterne and Meredith. He is also known as a master of the short story, having written classics of the genre in the Portuguese language, such as O AlienistaMissa do Galo, “A Cartomante” and “A Igreja do Diabo”.

Along with other writers and intellectuals, Machado de Assis founded the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1896 and was its president from 1897 to 1908, when he died.

Narrative Style

Machado’s style is unique, and several literary critics have tried to explain it since 1897. He is considered by many the greatest Brazilian writer of all times, and one of the greatest in the world as a romance and short story writer. His chronicles do not share the same status and his poems show a curious difference with the rest of his work: while his Machado’s prose is serene and elegant, his poems are often shocking for the use of crude terms, sometimes similar to those of Augusto dos Anjos, another Brazilian writer.

American literary critic Harold Bloom considers Machado de Assis one of the greatest 100 geniuses of literature, to the point of considering him the greatest black writer of western literature. He places Machado alongside writers such as Dante, Shakespeare and Cervantes. 

Dom Casmurro

Machado de Assis was fascinated with the theme of jealousy, and many of his novels are built on this intrigue. One of his most popular ones, Dom Casmurro, is still widely read in Brazilian schools. The volume reflects Machado de Assis’ life as a translator of Shakespeare, and also his influence from French realism, especially Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert and Émile Zola. In the novel, he also refers to Much Ado About NothingThe Merry Wives of WindsorHamletRomeo and Juliet, and most importantly, Othello. In fact, Helen Caldwell wrote a book comparing the Shakespearian play to Dom Casmurro “The Brazilian Othello of Machado de Assis – A study of Dom Casmurro”. It gives new meaning to this story.

The House Of Knowledge

There’s a great great great idea coming out of Brazil, mainly out of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and its called Casa do Saber. They are basically a place of learning for anyone who wants to join in on their discussions, debates and free courses (although most are paid courses). I foolishly didn’t make time to stop by during my last trip to Sao Paulo and I find myself regretting that decision. The courses they offer run the gamut, starting with anthropology and heading into science, economics, philosophy, history, art, literature and psychoanalysis. Below I have translated their “About Us” statement.

“The Casa do Saber is a center for debates, reflection and knowledge in Rio and São Paulo, that allows for the access of culture in a way that is clear and involving, however rigorous and faithful to the creators of the work.

Within an extra-curricular environment, Casa do Saber offers free courses, speeches and offices of study, in which the student is reunited with renowned professors and speakers.

The speeches and the courses, each lasting three months, present the differential of being ministered in small groups in order to promote the exchange of ideas and a larger interaction between the participants and the speakers.”

Who needs reading when you have these opportunities at your fingertips?

FLIP’ing out over books

FLIP, or Festa Literária Internacional de Parati is a yearly literary festival held in the charming old seaside city of Parati (sometimes spelled Paraty), in Rio de Janeiro (close to the border of São Paulo). It has attracted many world-famous authors since it began in late 2003. The Festival comes complete with music shows, interviews, writer’s workshops and a main attraction, which pays homage to a different notable Brazilian writer each year.

This year, FLIP will be held July 2nd through the 6th, 2008.

I have long wanted to go there, not only for my love of literature but to experience the colonial beauty of Parati’s cobblestone streets and old churches. Soon!

Check out the FLIP site in English