Benjamin Moser is the author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector and Sontag: Her Life and Work (2019), which won a Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2020. A columnist for the New York Times Book Review, he is also the series editor of the new translations of Lispector’s works for New Directions. (May 2020)

Follow Benjamin Moser on Twitter: @BenjaminFMoser.


Not Rembrandt, But…

Jan Lievens: Portrait of Rembrandt, circa 1629

Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered

a recent exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Milwaukee Art Museum; and the Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam
Two large Rembrandt reproductions hung on the wall of my grandmother’s guest room. Pains had been taken to make them look authentic. They were elaborately framed and printed on an expensive polymer scuffed to suggest craquelure. The figure on the left, robed and beturbanned, looked so much like my grandmother …

Rembrandt—The Jewish Connection?

Rembrandt's Jews

by Steven Nadler

De "joodse" Rembrandt: De mythe ontrafeld [The "Jewish" Rembrandt: The Myth Revealed]

an exhibition at the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, November 10, 2006–February 4, 2007.
“J’aime les juifs!” Holland’s foremost painter shouts as he moves through seventeenth-century Amsterdam’s busy streets. The scene, in Charles Matton’s 1999 film Rembrandt, unwittingly recalls another, from the film of the same name made fifty-eight years before by German director Hans Steinhoff. Already well known for his Hitlerjunge Quex, about …


On Afric's Shore: A History of Maryland in Liberia, 1834–1857

by Richard L. Hall
On November 27, 1833, the decrepit brig Ann, under the direction of a violent alcoholic captain, sailed out of Baltimore harbor. Aboard were several missionaries and twenty-two African-Americans who, under the sponsorship of the state of Maryland and various private philanthropists, intended to found a “virtuous commonwealth of teetotaling freeholders” …


Sontag in Sarajevo

Susan Sontag, Sarajevo, Bosnia, 1993

What was at stake in Sarajevo was not only the fate of a people and a country. Sarajevo was a European city—and Europe, David Rieff wrote, “had become a moral category as well as a geographical one.” This category was the liberal idea of the free society: of civilization itself, especially after Auschwitz. The Bosnians knew this and were bewildered that their appeals were met with such indifference. But how could a single person stand in the path of a genocidal army? The question of how to oppose injustice had occupied Susan Sontag since childhood: since she read Les Misérables, since she saw the first pictures of the Holocaust in the bookstore in Santa Monica. Sarajevo offered a chance to put her body on the line for the ideas that had given dignity to her life.

Llansol, Poet of the Posthumous

Portugal, 1976

To read Geography of Rebels is to wonder whether a work such as this, with its severed body parts and abruptly truncated sentences, could have ever been written for a country where it might have conceivably been published. One can easily imagine the despair that a writer would feel at finding herself exiled and unpublishable in middle age. Literary history offers abundant examples of people in similar situations who gave up on art, and on life. Only a woman of uncommon strength could have made virtues of those necessities, and one is constantly amazed by the courage that it must have taken Llansol to write like this. To do so, she had to give up on writing as a career; to accept that a lifetime of work might be destined for the rubbish-heap—and go ahead anyway.

Dreaming Up Rio

Sugarloaf Mountain viewed from Botafogo Beach, circa 1900

To some Olympic tourists—those not frightened off by the reports of raw sewage and mosquito-borne disease—Marc Ferrez’s Rio, seen in a new collection of photographs, will seem unspeakably distant from the huge graffitied metropolis of today. But a closer look will reveal that, despite the changes over the last century, some similarities remain, less in the city than in the highly artistic view being held up for their admiration.