PEN launches online book group with Lispector

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On July 6, PEN American Center launches its first online book club. The center -- and its friends and fans -- will read Clarice Lispector’s “The Hour of the Star,” the edition from New Directions Publishing. The book was originally published in Lispector’s home country, Brazil, in 1977, months before she died of cancer.

Richard Eder wrote our review for a 1986 edition of the book. Eder wrote:

Lispector, who died in 1977, was one of Brazil’s most highly regarded writers; yet to use such a term is a kind of disrespect to her artistic credo. Her art is a perpetual self-consciousness and self-questioning. It is circuitous as a matter of principle; only that which is off the path of the writer’s intention is of value. The artist goes to market to buy a pig; art is the packet of pins she brings back instead. All this puts Lispector in a tradition different from that of many of the Latin American writers we have come to know in recent years. It is not the assertive magical realism of a Garcia Marquez. It is a kind of magical unreality; a deliberate anti-assertion. The author argues with her characters, her readers and herself. The line goes back to Tristram Shandy, but it flowered in Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis, Spanish philosopher and novelist Miguel de Unamuno and Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello.

Lispector, who enjoyed tremendous fame in Brazil, was the subject of 2009’s “Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector” by Benjamin Moser. “Moser carefully unwraps the very raw, intimate character behind her very introspective books,” wrote Natasha Randall in our review. “Her life was a mixture of public and private elements -- the details of her life were off-limits, but she would share her innermost thoughts on the page. She wrote, ‘Alongside my desire to defend my privacy, I have the intense desire to confess in public and not to a priest.’”


The book club, which they’re calling PEN Reads, will spend five weeks on “The Hour of the Star,” kicking off the discussion with a post by Colm Tóibín on June 6; they say it will go up at noon Eastern. Writers, scholars and translators will be joining in. How exactly can the rest of us? I’m not sure, but if you’re interested in reading along, now would be a good time to order the book.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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