Near to the Wild Heart – Clarice Lispector (translated by Allison Entrekin)

From the depths I call thee, from the depths I call thee from the depths I call thee from the depths I call thee…
A celebration of life, rising up, from the depths…Welcome to the world of Clarice Lispector, and her debut novel “Near to the Wild Heart”. Written in 1943 in Portuguese, and released to instantaneous success, we have a new translation from New Directions in 2012. Clarice Lispector, born in Western Ukraine, exiled to Brazil as part of the emigration from Europe during World War II, a war that killed her mother and grandfather, she had this work published at age twenty-three. And what a debut it is…
We begin with Joana, our protagonist, as a child, who loves to heighten her emotions by watching the clock. “Now, when happiness or anger happened she’d run to the clock and watch the seconds in vain.” So we are introduced to an emotionally aware young girl:
She wasn’t worn out from crying. She understood that her father had ended. That was all. And her sadness was a big heavy tiredness, without anger. She walked along the immense beach with it. She looked at her feet dark and think like twigs against the quiet whiteness where they sank in and from where they rose up rhythmically, in a breath. She walked, walked and there was nothing to be done: her father was dead.
This is a simple tale of Joana’s life, her being orphaned at a young age, her marriage, chapters where she listens in to discussions about her deceased mother and of course (as above) her father.
Our heroine here, Joana can “think and feel along several different paths at the same time.” Just like our novel! The introduction tells us that this was constructed from pieces of ideas jotted down in a notebook whenever they occurred. But this is not a disjointed tale, it is full of raw emotion, a depth of what it means to exist, a reflection on a lost childhood, a life of innocence but at the same time mature, and a hotchpotch of living.
I don’t miss it, because I have my childhood more now than when it was happening…
Our tale takes us back to when she was sent to boarding school, by her aunt who could not control her and Joana steals a book. In her private teaching there is a hint of sexual tension between Joana and her teacher, “The teacher was distant again, his hand withdrawn, lips downturned, indifferent as if Joana was nothing but his “little friend”.”
 A very intriguing an deep novel, we move from the minutae of daily extistence straight into the grand themes, for example we go from, “Love so strong that its passion was only curbed by the strength of hatred” to “her aunt handed her the bread plate in silence. Her uncle didn’t take his eyes off the plate.” Is this banal or is it showing the extreme movements that we have in each living moment?
From a plot perspective we have a simple tale, for example the chapter “The little family” is about her husband Otavio’s writing, her impact on him, he lust for life, his for order. We learn of Otavio’s lover and his different manner in her presence. Again grand themes mixed with the banal.
She feared the days, one after another, without surprises, of pure devotion to a man. To a man who would freely use of all his wife’s forces for his own bonfire, in a serene, unconscious sacrifice of everything that wasn’t his own personality. IT was a false rebellion, an attempt at liberation that came above all with great fear of victory. She’d seek for a few days to take an attitude of independence, which she only achieved with some success in the mornings, when she woke up, when she still hadn’t seen him. All it took was his presence, merely sensed, for her entire self to annul itself and wait. At night, alone in her room, she wanted him. All of her nerves, all of her sick muscles. So she resigned herself. Resignation was sweet and fresh. She had been born for it.
Yes we are talking a novel written in the 1940’s a misogynistic tale.
Yes she thought distantly, staring at him – there are indestructible things that accompany the body to death as if they had been born with it. And one of them is what is created between a man and a woman who have experienced certain moments together.
In the chapter “The Encounter With Otavio” Joana simply watches her husband sleep, expresses her fears and finally falls asleep in his arms “Joana sleeping deeply, almost for the first time in her life, trusting herself to a man who was asleep beside her”. We then move to the emotions associated with jealousy, where Joana is invited into his mistresses, Lidia’s, home to discuss the situation, both are pregnant. It may appear as though I’m giving away a lot of the plot here, but the narrative or story is not important here, it is the inner machinations of our Joana (or Clarice?) which are the true revelation.
How to end Joana’s story? If she could take the look she had caught on Lidia and add it: no one will love you…Yes, end like that: even though she was one of those creatures that are straggling and alone in the world, no one had ever thought to give Joana anything. Not love, they always gave her some other emotion. She lived her life, avid as a virgin – and would be to the grave. She asked herself many questions, but could never answer herself: she’d stop in order to feel. How was a triangle born? as an idea first? or did it come after the shape had been executed? would a triangle be born fatally? things were rich. – She would want to spend time on the question. But love invaded her. Triangle, circle, straight lines…as harmonious and mysterious as an arpeggio, Where does music go when it’s not playing? – she asked herself. And disarmed she would answer: may they make a harp out of my nerves when I die.
Who talks to us in this story? It blends first and third person, is it a narrator, is it Joana, is it Clarice hiding as Joana? A meditation on existence, immortality and death.
From the depths I call thee, from the depths I call thee from the depths I call thee from the depths I call thee…

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