Fiction: translation of Brazilian writer's last book

The Hour of the Star, by Clarice Lispector. New York: Carcanet. 96 pp. $15.95. ``The Hour of the Star'' was Clarice Lispector's last novel and is also the first to be made into a film (directed by Susana Amaral). The book's visual images, combined with Lispector's usual lyricism, make ``The Hour of the Star'' an attractive vehicle for a film. Indeed, the book lends itself to a variety of interpretations.

On the surface, this brief book narrates the life of a young woman, Macabea, from the poor northeast of Brazil, who immigrates to the city of Rio in hopes of making a better life for herself. Her story is told from the point of view of an extremely introverted narrator, Rodrigio M., who has hired Macabea as a typist. During the 96 pages of the book, we become completely attached to and involved with Macabea, who is relentlessly cursed by her boyfriend, but above all by her life.

The deeper reading of ``The Hour of the Star'' deals with Lispector's favorite theme: the process of writing and creation. The overly self-aware narrator asks himself: How can one write about marginal people? What can one say about them, and above all, what is the aesthetic relevance of writing about those who have so little? Yet it is precisely Macabea's simplicity - her ways of yearning for an inner world - that makes her such an appealing figure. We are touched by her most pathetic habits, such as dreaming of the taste of cold cream.

Perhaps what is most interesting about the relationship of the narrator and the protagonist of his story is the fact that they tend to merge into one character. When Macabea is struck by a car and dies, the narrator metaphorically loses his life also.

``The Hour of the Star'' is beautifully translated by Giovani Pointiero. This jewel-like volume is one to cherish and to reflect on long after the brief pages have been read. Consider, for instance, one of the narrator's introductory statements: ``So long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on writing.''

Marjorie Agosin, a poet and teacher, has published a study of Pablo Neruda.

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