More an examination of life itself than the life lived, this first US publication of the acclaimed late Brazilian writer Lispector's first novel (originally published in 1944, when she was only 19) reminds us of bet precocious if narrowly focused talent (Soul-storm, etc.). There is little narrative, and the setting, though Brazilian, is only lightly sketched. Sometimes the narrator is in the country, sometimes in the city--it is not important. Joanna, a young woman very much in the mode of existential contemporaries like Camus and Sartre (the book appeared in 1944) ponders the meaning of life, the freedom to be one's self, and the purpose of existence. And as a woman, she adds a feminine perspective to these fundamental questions. Joanna remembers her childhood with her widowed father, when ""she could spend whole afternoons thinking,"" and the teacher to whom she confessed proudly that die didn't like enjoying herself. After her father dies, she moves in with an aunt and uncle, who think her strange and cold. A troubling encounter with a favorite teacher and his wife strengthens her growing belief that one is ultimately alone. Marriage to Octavio, who has a mistress pregnant with his child, becomes another limitation--""Now all her time was devoted to him and she felt that any minutes she could call her own had been conceded, broken into little ice-cubes which she must swallow quickly before they melted."" Joanna finally leaves her husband for good, determined to be free, alone, for that is the only way she can fulfill herself. Lyricism and deep emotions infuse this work, and the writing is undeniably Fine, but there is ultimately something claustrophobic--and a little dated--about Joanns's self-absorption and philosophical quest.