The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lispector, translated from Portuguese by Katrina Dodson (2015) is one of the great translation projects of the 21th century. I was kindly given a review copy of this work a few months prior to publication. As I read through it in amazement I knew this book would capture the hearts of all lovers of the short story. Benjamin Moser in his very well done introduction warns us that the work of Clarice Lispector can be like witchcraft craft to those vulnerable to her spell. I admit to being captivated. I proudly put her image on my blog sidebar long ago. Anyone interested in her will surely do a Google search. They will learn her family, she was very young, left her native Ukraine to move to north eastern Brazil, where many Jews had relocated, to escape vicious anti-Semitic pograms. They spoke no Portuguese on but Clarice became the greatest of all Brazilian writers. Sadly as I read this I thought few countries today, including America, would welcome a poor family of five from the Ukraine as new citizens.
I could not let Women in Translation Month pass without including a post upon a short story by Clarice. I have read all of her stories at least twice, and am slowly reading them again and hopefully will eventually post on all 85 stories. I found a short story perfect for the primary theme of my blog, literary works about people who lead reading centered lives.
"Covert Joy" centers on a young girl living in Recife, where Clarice grew up. She loves books totally. There is a rich girl, a cruel bully girl, who lords it over her poorer but much better looking fellow students. The narrator can afford to buy books so the bully girl keeps telling her to come to her house and she will loan her a book. For days on end she makes the girl come back, always with an excuse why there is no book for her today. Finally the bully's mother intervenes and give the girl a book. The girl is overwhelmed with joy. You have to love the close of the story:
"Hours later I opened it, read a few wondrous lines, closed it again, wandered around the house, stalled even more by eating some bread and butter, pretended not to know where I had put the book, found it, opened it for a few seconds. I kept inventing the most contrived obstacles for that covert thing that was joy. Joy would always be covert for me. I must have already sensed it. Oh how I took my time! I was living in the clouds . . . There was pride and shame inside me. I was a delicate queen. Sometimes I’d sit in the hammock, swinging with the book open on my lap, not touching it, in the purest ecstasy. I was no longer a girl with a book: I was a woman with her lover."
I highly recommend Why This World:A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser.