Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"Jimmy and I" by Clarice Lispector (1941, from The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lispector, translated by Katrina Dodson, forthcoming August 2015)

Clarice Lipsector, born in a Shetl in the Ukraine, at age one moved with her family to Brazil. She wrote in Portugese and became a Brazilian citizen.   She would go on to be widely considered the most important Jewish writer since Kafka and Latin America's greatest female writer.  I was very pleased to be given an advance review copy The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lipsector by New Directions Press.  There are 86 stories in all, arranged in publication order.  I have decided to read all the stories and post on all of them.  One advantage of this is you can see the artistic development of the author.   

"I still remember Jimmy, that boy with the tousled chestnut hair, covering the elongated skull of a born rebel. I remember Jimmy, his hair and his ideas. Jimmy thought that nothing is as good as nature. That if two people like each other the only thing to do is love each other, simple as that. That everything else, in mankind, that gets separated from this simplicity belonging to the start of the world, is affectation, and froth. Had those ideas sprung from another head, I wouldn’t have even put up with listening to them. But there was the excuse of Jimmy’s skull and there was, above all the excuse of his bright teeth and his clear smile of a contented animal." 

"Jimmy and I" is a very moving very convincing story about the first stirrings of love and sexual feelings in a young woman.  The narrative complexity and interest in this story derives from it being told by the woman not as it happens but years later.  We do not know her exact age upon the telling but she has graduated law school so it must be at least mid-twenties.  She tries to explain to herself why she acted as she did. The girl soon passes beyond Jimmy intellectually and falls for a university examiner. These lines using Hegel to explain her need to move on from Jimmy are simply wonderful rendition of youthful intellectualism.

"then I explained to him that I was madly in love with D … , and, in a marvelous stroke of inspiration (I regretted that the examiner couldn’t hear me), told him that, in this case, I was incapable of unifying the contradictory elements, making a Hegelian synthesis. The digression was useless. Jimmy looked at my blankly and could only ask: “What about me?” I got irritated. I don’t know, I answered, kicking an imaginary pebble and thinking: look, figure it out for yourself! We’re simple animals." 

There are so many levels of thought and confusion in these words one could spend hours unraveling them.  

"Jimmy and I" is very funny, wise, and basically just a lot of fun to read.  My date of publication of 1942 is a guess.  The collection does not include, as it should, date and place of first publication information.

 Clarice Lispector (1920–1977) was Brazilian journalist, translator and author of fiction. Born in Western Ukraine into a Jewish family who suffered greatly during the pogroms of the Russian Civil War, she was still an infant when her family fled the disastrous post-World War I situation for Rio de Janiero. At twenty-three, she became famous for her novel, Near to the Wild Heart, and married a Brazilian diplomat. She spent much of the forties and fifties in Europe and the United States, helping soldiers in a military hospital in Naples during World War II and writing, before leaving her husband and returning to Rio in 1959. Back home, she completed several novels including The Passion According to G.H. and The Hour of the Star before her death in 1977 from ovarian cancer.  - from New Directions Publishing webpage

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