In this third novel by one of Brazil's greatest novelists—published here for the first time in English—protagonist Lucrécia Neves lives, falls in and out of love, and observes the city of Sao Geraldo as it transitions from a place where wild horses roam to a more modern landscape.
The final pages are what sets The Besieged City apart from Lispector’s other works: it has a happy ending of deus-ex-machina scale. Yet much of the novel is deeply inscrutable. Told by a removed and roving narrator in fleeting, epigrammatic vignettes, it can be difficult to inhabit Lucrécia’s emotions or motivations as she navigates the repressive world of early-twentieth-century romance ... Lispector’s characteristic experimental, associative stream-of-consciousness style can make even the simplest interactions feel alienating, disjointed, and baffling. Even the act of Lucrécia picking lint off a man’s sleeve becomes strained and peculiar. Such experimentations and departures do not lessen the novel’s greatness, just as they didn’t for James Joyce, or for Lispector’s frequent critical parallel, Virginia Woolf ... The Besieged City’s challenging prose certainly contributed to its long-delayed appearance in English. Yet underneath Lispector’s inventive, modernist style is a poignant and radical depiction of a young woman navigating a patriarchal society ... The Besieged City arrives to us today as an artifact and a time capsule, a bittersweet revelation of a missed moment in a modernist movement that has long since passed.
Lispector makes us think about our own besieged city, our own São Geraldo. This is a book about the inevitable choices we make and how inevitable it is to pick a path, to go in one direction or another and how that is also limited by our starting point as it will compromise who we will become ... Unwittingly or not, Lispector seems to draw on Friedrich Nietzsche’s theory of the 'Eternal Return,' which amongst other things theorizes that existence is recurring and will continue to recur in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space. Lucrécia and the other characters in this book are living lives that have already been lived before and that will be lived yet again ... If there is a book that can somehow mirror the feeling of displacement Lispector felt throughout her life, that would be The Besieged City ... this is a book that needs to be read and re-read; important details shine forth, making it an even richer literary and sensorial experience each time. Although this novel was first published over 70 years ago, The Besieged City is a fascinating work of art, a philosophical and psychoanalytic novel written by an author who is slowly being welcomed, unraveled and celebrated by a worldwide audience.
It is a book that, on first appearance, occupies an odd place in the author’s oeuvre: devoid of much of the 'interiority' of her more famous works and stylistically anomalous ... Rather than being a novel of interior reflection and the formation of consciousness through a relation between inner and outer selves, The Besieged City instead takes the form of a novel constructed from reciprocally reflective relations between objects ... the atmosphere that surrounds The Besieged City is one of continual reverberation and trembling. Tremulousness courses through The Besieged City like a cold stream, a structural and textual force. Lispector’s prose lilts and sways, its rhythm shakes at once with closeness and distance. The sensory power Lispector is able to draw from her sentences is here given free rein and the descriptive character of the text is wild with excess, seeking to imbue everything simultaneously with solidity, material presence, and transience, fluidity ... This novel’s peculiar, equivocating sense of time and space strikes an uncomfortable note between loose, fast-flowing movement and inertia ... It would ultimately be disingenuous to rank The Besieged City among Lispector’s finest work ... However, it stands more as a kind of creative misstep, the pursuit of a particular facet of the author’s work to its shivering endpoint.