Essential and sure to turn up soon on reading lists in courses in women’s studies and Jewish diaspora literature as well as...

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THE COMPLETE STORIES

“Freedom is only what can be conquered”: a welcome, long overdue omnibus collection of the short stories of the great Brazilian literata.

Chaya Pinkhasovna Lispector, later Clarice Lispector (Soulstorm, 1989, etc.), has been called the most important Jewish writer since Franz Kafka and certainly one of the most important shapers of late-20th-century Brazilian literature. Those familiar with novels such as The Stream of Life will not need convincing, but those new to Lispector’s work would fruitfully begin with this collection, which shows both the evolution of her style and her early mastery of the story form. Often in her stories there is a vaguely discontented woman who has settled into her fate early on but nurses misgivings. In a story that begins, arrestingly, “Now that the affair is behind me, I can recollect it more serenely,” the narrator remarks on the damnable complacency of those around her, who can barely be budged into action except by such climactic events as birth and death “and their attendant conditions.” “I can recollect it more serenely,” of course, isn’t quite idiomatic, and the collection is marked by a highly literal rendering that at times verges into translatorese: no speaker of American English, in the heat of anger or some other passion, would yell, “I feel tied down. Tied down by your fussing, your caresses, your excessive zeal, by you yourself!” Excessive zeal? There are plenty of perfect moments, though, as when Lispector describes a young lady to whom things are about to happen: “She sat combing her hair languorously before the three-way vanity, her white, strong arms bristling in the slight afternoon chill.” For much of the collection, Lispector favors a kind of elegant realism, though with odd turns: contemplating chicken and egg, literally, she waxes post-Wittgensteinian: “Seeing an egg never remains in the present: as soon as I see an egg it already becomes having seen an egg three millennia ago.”

Essential and sure to turn up soon on reading lists in courses in women’s studies and Jewish diaspora literature as well as Latin American writing.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8112-1963-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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