A Golem in Brazil

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The Apple in the Dark, Clarice Lispector’s fourth novel, was published in Rio de Janeiro in 1961, five years after she completed the last of its eleven drafts. Begun in Agatha Christie’s hometown of Torquay, where Lispector’s husband, a diplomat, was a Brazilian delegate to an international conference, The Apple in the Dark was finished in Clarice’s home in the Washington suburbs, where she spent most of the fifties.

jewish author blog“It was a fascinating book to write,†she wrote a friend back in Rio de Janeiro. “I learned a lot doing it, I was shocked by the surprises it gave me—but it was also a great suffering.†Her suffering was not over when she finished it, however. Despite the best efforts of her friends and admirers, the book, like so many others later acclaimed as masterpieces, languished for years in manuscript, as one publisher after another declined.

“When I write something, I stop liking it, little by little,†she wrote in a letter home, suggesting her increasing despair. “I feel like a girl putting together her trousseau and storing it in a chest. A bad marriage is better than no marriage; it’s horrible to see a yellowing trousseau.â€

As a diplomatic spouse, Clarice had been absent from Brazil for the better part of two decades, living in Italy, Switzerland, England, and the United States. She was increasingly unknown to the Brazilian public. She could still count on the small circle of artists and intellectuals who had been fascinated by her since 1943 when, twenty three years old, she published her debut, Near to the Wild Heart. The novel was recognized as the greatest a woman had ever written in the Portuguese language.

Despite that early success, her second and third novels struggled to find a broader audience. After she left Brazil, a friend recalled, “publishers avoided her like the plague. The motives seemed obvious to me: she wasn’t a disciple of ‘socialist realism’ or preoccupied with the little dramas of the little Brazilian bourgeoisie.â€

Posted on August 28, 2009
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