THE FOREIGN LEGION: Stories and Chronicles by Clarice Lispector

THE FOREIGN LEGION: Stories and Chronicles

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Republication of the late Brazilian writer's 1964 collection of short stories and essays: the fiction is on the whole piercing and inquisitive, but the essays might better have remained in the bottom of the drawer. Like much of Lispector's work, the 13 stories collected here are autobiographical, with the author in the guise of narrator/protagonist. The moving ""The Misfortunes of Sofia"" is a kind of childhood lesson in love, the story of a nine-year-old girl who has a crush on one of her teachers: ""I taunted him and when I finally succeeded in provoking him. . . I bit my nails in triumph."" The other stories (with the exception of ""Journey to Petrópolis,"" a sad, short piece about an old woman's final days) chronicle a woman growing up, getting married, then settling down to have children, and to write. Lispector's at her best writing about animals and small children, as in ""Monkeys,"" where a mother buys a sickly monkey for her children (""I thought of the children, of the joys they gave me gratis, which bore no relation to the worries they also gave me gratis, and I visualized a chain of happiness""), and in the powerful title story, ""The Foreign Legion,"" a kind of reverse of ""The Misfortunes of Sofia,"" in which an enchanting little girl fails in love with the narrator. The section containing the essays is here entitled ""Chronicles,"" but was more accurately called ""Bottom Drawer"" by the author herself when the book was first published: ""I have a real affection for things which are incomplete or badly finished, for things which awkwardly take flight only to fall clumsily to the ground."" Unfortunately, the reader can't share that affection: with the exception of ""Five Days in Brasilia,"" a lovely, almost mystical travel piece, the ""Chronicles"" are mainly pointless jottings that often have the air of slapdash journal entries, and contain far too much of what translator Giovanni Pontiero calls in his Afterword ""metaphysical"" knot-tying. In sum: a number of strong and telling short stories, but to get a true feel for this talented writer's work, readers should turn to her short novel, The Hour of the Star (p. 239).

Pub Date: May 2nd, 1986
Publisher: Carcanet--dist. by Harper & Row