Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Moacyr Scliar (March 23, 1937)

Moacyr Scliar, author of The Centaur in the Garden and other works of fiction, just died on February 27. I think his works, often in the style of South-American magical realism but usually about Jewish identity and life there, deserve to be better known than they are.

Scliar’s obituary in the New York Times summarized his life thus: “Moacyr Jaime Scliar was born ... in Porto Alegre [Brazil]. His parents, who emigrated from Bessarabia in 1919, gave him a Brazilian Indian name in a nod to their new cultural surroundings. After attending both Yiddish and Roman Catholic schools, he obtained a medical degree in 1962 and practiced in the public health service until retiring in 1987.”

The centaur in his book belongs to a family of Russian immigrants to Brazil, like Scliar himself: “’At home, you speak Yiddish, eat gefilte fish and celebrate Shabbat,’ he told the Yiddish Book Center in 2003. ‘But in the streets, you have soccer, samba and Portuguese. After a while you feel like a centaur.’”

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