My oldest son asked a couple of months ago what book he should read for his oral English exam at highschool. I advised him to read Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star (1977). I told him that it's an easy and thin book. The last book Clarice wrote before she died.
He finished reading the book last week and told me that he didn't understand the book. He had no idea what it was about. No clue.
Yesterday evening we talked, just the two of us about the book. In English. This is what I told him:
- You have to read this book with care and slowly. Change the way you breath in and out. It's not a hamburger from McDonalds. Take your time. You need to learn to read. That's what English at school is about. Learn to read, learn to summarize and being able to talk about it in English.
- Clarice is a mystic. Be aware that there are dimensions that you don't grasp. Or don't grasp yet.
- Clarice likes and is interested in 'the void'. She can look concentrated in an empty shop-window with mannequins for minutes. You have to look with this in your mind at this quote "Meanwhile the clouds are white and the sky is blue. Why so much God. Why not a little for men."
- In Jewish religion - Clarice parents were Jews who fled, at the end of WWI, from Ukraine to Brazil - a part of "reality" can't be said. This part is a mystery and has to be discovered. In this respect Clarice was Jewish.
- The title of the book is 'The Hour of the Star'. But it could have been one of the other twelve too. Those 13 titles are 13 different views or perspectives to look at the same story.
- The narrator of the book is sophisticated Rodrigo who tells his story about poor, underfed, virgin and unattractive 19 year old girl Macabéa (or Maca) who lives in Rio de Janeiro. She is a typist but will probably not keep her job for long. She lives in one room with four other woman in the slums. All of them called 'Maria'.
- We do not know what the relation is between Rodrigo and Maca. Partly he feels that his life is more successful than Maca's. Partly he identifies with her ("I'll die too"). Partly he feels sorry for her ("there are many more like her").
- Maca is in love with jerk Olímpico. He will leave her for hot co-worker Gloria. For Olímpico the father of Gloria is a step up on the ladder of society. Why? He's a butcher. (Maca's father died long ago.)
- Maca lives in the "now" and is happy with eating hotdogs, drinking coco-cola, sipping cold coffee before she goes to bed and listening to the radio. Going to the movies once a month. Imagining being like Marilyn Monroe. She is poor and has a miserable live but isn't aware of that. She enjoys her simple life.
- Gloria feels sorry for Maca (because she stole Olímpico) and recommends visiting a fortune-teller. The fortune-teller tells that she will keep the job, Olímpico will propose her and that she will marry a rich and loving foreigner called Hans. Full of bewilderment and wonder Maca leaves the fortune-teller. She steps off a curb and a huge yellow Mercedes runs over her. Maca dies.
- Rodrigo reflects on death and existence. Having a miserable life and miserable death.
- A sad and depressing book? No, it's a book that tries to unite a lot of things that seems conflicting and first site. And that can exist perfectly next to each other. The book begins with "yes" and ends with "yes". First sentence: "One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born."
- Last sentence: "(...) all I [Rodrigo] can do is light a cigarette and go home. My God, I just remembered that we die. But - but me too?! Don't forget that for now it's strawberry season. Yes."