MAX AND THE CATS

Moacyr Scliar, Author, Eloah F. Giacomelli, Translator , trans. from the Portuguese by Eloah F. Giacomelli. Plume $11 (115p) ISBN 978-0-452-28453-1

Originally published in Brazil in 1981, Scliar's novella tells, with a sharp eye but a glancing touch, the story of a boy at the mercy of terrible forces, who grows into a man similarly powerless, until he commits an act of violent defiance. German Max Schmidt, son of a brutish furrier and a gentle mother, is "morbidly sensitive," imagining escape to exotic climes. At university, Max befriends a troubled socialist and rekindles his affair with libidinous Frida, the fur store clerk who had deflowered him. But Frida is now married to a Nazi, who learns of the relationship, and Max must flee on a ship bound for Brazil. When the ship sinks—sabotaged by its evil captain and the owner of the menagerie of animals in the hull—Max barely survives, only to find himself in a tiny dinghy in the company of a jaguar, whom he imagines has been sent to torment him. Max is rescued and makes his way to Brazil, where he lives in relative comfort until he spies a man in a Nazi uniform across the courtyard. He flees again, this time to the hills, where he becomes a moderately successful farmer, marries a native and has a daughter. Max can be an irrational, not entirely likable hero, and in this slight but somber fable, there is little time for him to win readers' hearts, though he earns their sympathy. When another Nazi moves onto the hillside above him, Max finally stands up to fate and the forces of evil. Scliar's affecting story about the power of fear has what purports to be a happy ending, but the darkness lingers. (Dec.)

Forecast: Accusations of plagiarism flew, and were rightfully squelched, after Yann Martel credited Scliar's novella with inspiring Life of Pi. The books have little in common but a feline-plagued castaway—a scene that occupies only 20 pages in Max and the Cats—and ironically, the connection to Martel's Man Booker winner may be this volume's best chance of good sales .

Reviewed on: 11/03/2003
Release date: 12/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
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