Category Archives: 2019 Literary Reads Project

Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector. Translated from the Portuguese by Benjamin Moser.

hour of the star Title: Hour of the Star
Author: Clarice Lispector
Translated from the Portuguese by
Publisher: Penguin Classics
ISBN: 978-0141392035
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

Clarice Lispector’s works burst on the literary scene a couple of years ago. Her books were republished, retranslated to English (I think), and read and loved by all. Whether understood or not is secondary, and I don’t mean this in a condescending or patronising manner. The truth of the matter is: Sometimes it is hard to read Lispector, because there is so much to make of what she has written. I am only happy that more people are discovering her and reading her. It is always so important to read new authors, to break your reading mould, and experience new terrains, cultures, and lives you wouldn’t have thought about in the past.

Hour of the Star is a strange book, in the classic good-strange kind of way. It was one of her last few works published and it clearly to me is one of her best. I have read most of her books and every time I read a Lispector, my head is in a dizzy. It is like I cannot read anything else for days after reading her. That’s the effect she has with her words, her characters, and the stories she chose to tell.

Hour of the Star is a small book with some very big ideas, all along the read. The book focuses on the life of an uneducated woman and her struggle to survive in a sexist society. Sadly, this doesn’t sound very alien, does it? Hour of the Star is also about abject poverty and the class differences we witness every single day.  At the same time, Lispector’s Macabéa, the 19-year-old impoverished girl living in Rio de Janeiro doesn’t feel for once that she leads a difficult life. The story is told through the narrator, Rodrigo S.M., and he starts the book with how to tell a story and what goes into it. The fourth wall is broken. Lispector’s themes are broad and large in scope. In all of this, there is also a fortune-teller named Madame Carlota and you should read the book also for all of the secondary characters.

Lispector writes more so inwardly – there is a stream of consciousness and then there isn’t. She constantly challenges the reader to read better, if there is something like that, if not then there should be. Macabéa’s traits are so well-etched, that in all of the loving of Coca-Cola, Marilyn Monroe, and her boyfriend (scum, by the way), Lispector cuts away at her heroine’s happiness, thereby jolting the reader’s notions of poverty, identity, and love.

You can sense the dichotomy of the well-off Rodrigo writing about the poverty of Macabéa. It is this power-dynamics that Lispector chose to write about? Is it this Brazil that Lispector wanted to show her readers where the lives of the impoverished is for all to see and write about? Hour of the Star is a tragic comedy about a girl living in poverty and has literally no clue about her state. She certainly makes no impact on anyone and never even knows love, but she has her small joys and as a reader, I couldn’t help but hoot for her through it all.

The brilliance of Hour of the Star is what each reader takes away from it. Don’t be deceived by it’s size of 96 pages. There is so much more to it. Moser’s translation is crisp, and on point. There is no detailing that isn’t needed to begin with. It is a story deeply, starkly, and told rooted in reality, with dreams that can never be fulfilled.

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A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

a raisin in the sun by lorraine hansberryTitle: A Raisin in the Sun
Author: Lorraine Hansberry
Publisher: Modern Library
ISBN: 978-0679601722
Genre: Drama, American Literature, Black Literature
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

Let me start this short review with this: Anyone who goes on and on and on about James Baldwin, which isn’t a bad thing at all by the way, should and must read Lorraine Hansberry. Amongst other things, Hansberry was the first black woman author whose play was performed on Broadway. It doesn’t seem much, but it is so much more, given the human rights they were fighting for – constantly, and still are.

Lorraine Hansberry did not write much. I wish she had. Her bibliography is limited. But, whatever she wrote is pure gold and deserves to be placed on the highest literary shelf there is. Her biography Looking for Lorraine by Imani Perry, which is a must-read if you’d like to know more about her. Well, let’s get on with A Raisin in the Sun.

What’s strange is that I had had the book on my shelf for years now but never picked it up. It is almost like you only read books when they are ready to be read and not before nor after. The timing has to be right and I am so glad that it was time for this play. This play is everything you think it is and more. A black family’s dreams and aspiration is portrayed heartbreakingly in this cracker of a play. The Younger family has decided to make something of themselves. While Ruth is content with what they have, her husband Walter isn’t. He wants to give a better life to their son, Travis. They live in poverty with Walter’s mother Lena and his sister Beneatha in a dilapidated two-bedroom apartment on Chicago’s south side. All Walter wants is a move, to some place better.

The entire play is about their trials and tribulations. And while Hansberry covers that brilliantly, she layers it with everything racist, everything prejudiced, and biased. There have been about three films based on this play, each better than the other and of course you must watch them when you can. Hansberry’s writing is without any apologies. It is as it is. Most of the play was semi-autobiographical and perhaps that’s why its candidness and brutal honesty challenged President Kennedy to take bolder stances on the Civil Rights Movement.

A Raisin in the Sun can rightly be called a movement. A revolution even – a small one and in its own way, a very important one. It was and continues to remain just that. A movement that will continue as long as disparity and inequality exists. Once you are done reading this extremely powerful play, read more by Hansberry. Be prepared to be in awe. Over and over again.

Elevation by Stephen King

elevation by stephen king Title: Elevation
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton, Hachette
ISBN: 978-1473691520
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

No matter how short or long the book is, I am a sucker for books written by Stephen King. Also, no matter how not so very good or very good those books are. Well, I guess some writers are just worth your time. In fact, I was just discussing with a friend yesterday that how he has the perfect blend of writing (if there is something like that at all) – the one that combines mass market with literary. Stephen King to my mind writes like no one else I have read and that’s perhaps that’s quite a tall claim, but I shall go with it for now.

Elevation is not like any Stephen King book you would’ve read and for someone with that kind of bibliography, that’s saying a lot. At first glance, a book about a man who is worried about his steady weight loss might seem to go in King’s safe spot, it isn’t the case as you continue reading it. The plot takes a very un-King twist and from there on the book becomes something else. Even in a 160-page book, King manages to fit in so much without it seeming that way.

The twist in the tale of Elevation is the plenty references of earlier books set in Castle Rock – from IT to the others. But what sets this one apart is how Scott (the protagonist) deals with what is happening to him and more importantly what is happening around him when a lesbian couple comes to town, opening a fine-dining restaurant and the town’s bias and prejudices start showing.

I for one, am extremely happy that King chose to speak of a marginalized community and has done so with great empathy. Sure, the tropes are present – the biggest being the backdrop of Thanksgiving. Having said that, there is a very small element of suspense that gets cleared very soon. I think King should write more of these novellas, that are so precise and yet convey everything. At the same time, I realize that I miss a tome from him.

Elevation is a much-needed book and I am glad it’s out there for people to read. It captivates and makes you think and wonder about your own biases. Read it. Please read it. Like I said, it is the kind of book that will make you sit up and take notice of people and communities around you.