MAX AND THE CATS by Moacyr Scliar


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A slender, sometimes flatly translated fable (under 100 pages) by the Brazilian writer Scliar (The Strange Nation of Rafael Mendes) that sends its young protagonist on a coming-of, age excursion from Germany to Brazil in the Nazi era. Max, born in Berlin in 1912, suffers from ""an almost morbid sensitivity."" He works in the stockroom of his father's fur store, and is taken with the warm skins of great cats, as well as with Frieda, an employee. One evening she seduces him, then is fired, but Max continues to see her into his university years. When her husband discovers the liaison, however, he denounces Max to the secret police, and Max flees on the Germania, a boat bound for Brazil. Unfortunately, its owners sink it for insurance, and Max finds himself in a dinghy with a jaguar. (Such frequent coincidence establishes an effective dream-tone.) After a harrowing few days--will the cat eat him?--he's rescued and takes up residence in Porto Alegre, where he begins to notice Nazis, members of a Brazilian right-wing movement; paranoid, he buys a car and takes off for the mountains, where he gets some land. Soon enough Max marries a beautiful Indian girl and, in 1939, has a daughter; when the war ends, he visits Germany, only to Fund one of his parents dead and the other senile. Back in Brazil, he wages a one-man war against a former Nazi and hounds the man to suicide before being arrested himself. Prison cleanses him, however, and he leaves it to retire into a tranquil life. The strange mixture of fantasy and reality is hardly flawless--occasionally it's too programmatic--but the dreamy surreal tone here still makes for a good introduction to this contemporary Latin-American writer.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1990
Publisher: Available/Ballantine