Clarice Lispector is widely recognized as a Brazilian writer, but fewer people may know that she fled to Brazil from Ukraine with her family due to Russia civil war when she was only one year old. By today’s standards, she may be considered a refugee or asylum seeker.
Born in 1920 as Chaya, a Hebrew word meaning “life,” Lispector and her family fled political unrest and anti-Semitic violence in Ukraine, settling in Recife, Brazil. Tragically, her mother passed away when she was only nine years old. In 1943, her first novel, Near to the Wild Heart, was published, at the age of 23. In 1944, Clarice left Brazil for the first time since her arrival as a child and spent the next fifteen years traveling in Europe and the United States. In 1959, Clarice returned to Rio de Janeiro, where she spent the rest of her life. In 1960, her short story collection, Family Ties, was published. In 1977, shortly before her death, The Hour of The Star was published. The novel draws from both her personal story and the experiences of marginalized individuals in Brazilian society.
Her first novel Near to the Wild Heart, was completed at the age of 23. The story tells the protagonist Joana’s life journey from childhood to an unhappy marriage, to the breakdown of her marriage, and finally to a rediscovery of herself. The narrative is introspective. Many important themes were established in this book, such as women’s self-awareness, and the difficulty of self-expression. Clarice’s work shows the fluidity of identity, both as a part of and separate from Brazilian society. Her writing challenges conventional literary forms, earning her a reputation as an innovative and influential writer.
“I will surpass myself in waves, ah, Lord, and may everything come and fall upon me, even the incomprehension of myself at certain white moments because all I have to do is comply with myself and then nothing will block my path until death-without-fear, from any struggle or rest I will rise up as strong and beautiful as a young horse.”
― Near to the Wild Heart
Ruihan is an MPhil student in Development Studies at Oxford University. She researched and wrote this article as part of the Oxford University Micro Internship programme.