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The late Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector (1920-1977) has been described as "brilliant and unclassifiable" (Edmund White) and a "sphinx, sorceress, sacred monster" (Parul Sehgal) — but I'd never heard of her until I picked up the new edition of The Hour of the Star, compelled by the beautiful cover of New Direction's special edition celebrating the 100th anniversary of her birth. It's a quick novella — just under 80 pages — but each page is dense with meaning; reading it is a powerful, hypnotic, at times disorienting experience.
Originally published in 1977, The Hour of the Star is Lispector's final work, a meta story-within-a-story that is as much a deconstruction of the act of writing as it is about the story it's telling. Narrator Rodrigo S.M. — a haughty writer, prone to overthinking but insistent on his humility — is obsessed by an impoverished young woman in Rio named Macabéa, whom he is convinced is powerless, ignorant, unhealthy, and miserable. Her misery would be understandable: She lives in the city's slums with a terrible boyfriend, dreaming of a better, more glamorous life. But the further Rodrigo delves into her story, the more clearly we see how happy and fulfilled she actually is, and he is as tormented by this disruption of his ideas of poverty and identity as he was initially tormented by the idea of a person so beaten down by life and society.
Such a story could easily fall into the traps of inspiration porn, working toward an epiphany about the nobility of poverty. But if there's any epiphany in The Hour of the Star, it's an existential one: More often than not, the search for meaning is futile. This sounds more depressing than the book really is (though, for sure, it's not a *happy* read) but it's impossible to walk away from the story without confronting your own beliefs about art, purpose, success, and humanity. I can't wait to explore more of her work. Get your copy.—Arianna Rebolini