Friday, April 11, 2014

#FridayReads: With My Dog Eyes by Hilda Hilst

Book list material:

A short, stunning book by a Brazilian master of the avant-garde.

Something has changed in Amos Keres, a university mathematics professor—his sentences trail off in class, he is disgusted by the sight of his wife and son, and he longs to flee the comfortable bourgeois life he finds himself a part of. Most difficult of all are his struggles to express what has happened to him, for a man more accustomed to numbers than words. He calls it "the clearcut unhoped-for," and it's a vision that will drive him to madness and, eventually, death. 

Written in a fragmented style that echoes the character's increasingly fragile hold on reality, With My Dog-Eyes is intensely vivid, summoning up Amos's childhood and young adulthood—when, like Richard Feynman, he used to bring his math books to brothels to study—and his life at the university, with its "meetings, asskissers, pointless rivalries, gratuitous resentments, jealous talk, meglomanias." 

Hilst, whose father was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, has created a lacerating, and yet oddly hopeful, portrayal of a descent into hell--Amos never makes sense of the new way he sees things, but he does find an avenue of escape, retreating to his mother's house and, farther, towards the animal world. A deeply metaphysical, formally radical one-of-a-kind book from a great Brazilian writer.

HILDA HILST was born in 1930 in Jaú, Brazil. Hilst was a prolific author whose work spans many different genres, including poetry, fiction, drama and newspaper columns. Born the heiress to a coffee fortune, she abandoned Sao Paolo and promising law career in the 1960s, moved to the countryside, and built herself a house, Casa do Sol, where she lived until the end of her life with a rotating cast of friends, lovers, aspiring artists, bohemian poets, and dozens of dogs. She received many major literary prizes over the course of her career, including Brazil's highest honor, the Premio Jabuti. Her work has been translated into French, German, and Italian. She died in 2004, at the age of 73. 

ADAM MORRIS is a PhD candidate in Latin American literature at Stanford University.  An excerpt from his translation of With My Dog-Eyes won the 2012 Susan Sontag Foundation Prize for Literary Translation.

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