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Max and the Cats

About the Book

Max and the Cats

In September 2002, Moacyr Scliar's Max and the Cats became the focus of a controversy in the literary world. At that time, Yann Martel had just won the Man Booker Prize, Britain's top literary award, for his book Life of Pi—the premise of which was taken (admittedly by Mr. Martel) from Max and the Cats. In an interview with The New York Times, Scliar, a Brazilian of Jewish heritage, expressed his concern that although Brazil produced "a world-class literature that ought to be recognized on its own merits, we only get attention when something extravagant like this occurs." Yet despite Mr. Scliar's misgivings, the uproar surrounding Max and the Cats is very much a positive for readers, since it calls to the forefront a wonderful and panoramic novel—one that may well bring Brazilian authors the attention they deserve.

Max and the Cats is the story of Max Schmidt. Born in Berlin in 1912, he is brought into the world just in time to experience some of the most ominous and terrifying events of the 20th century. Max's father, a furrier, is an overbearing, forceful man, who taunts his son to show strength and be less of a coward. Shy and pensive, Max takes refuge in the storage room of his father's store; there he reads travel narratives and "at his mother's insistence, Goethe and Schiller." Whether from his travel readings or his surroundings, it's here that Max develops an intense, strange fascination with felines. This forms the backbone of the story, as cats of various types (whether real or imagined) come to symbolize the traumatic events of Max's life.

As a young man still working in his father's store, Max is seduced by an older female co-worker. When their liaison is exposed by the woman's husband—a Nazi—Max is forced to flee Germany for Brazil. Thus begins an odyssey which catapults him quickly into manhood, and where he is at every turn forced to confront the demon of the Nazis (many of whom have themselves moved on to new lives in Brazil).

Max and the Cats simply and seamlessly embraces whole histories, cultures and worlds effectively in a short period of time. Within the span of 100 or so pages, Max has traveled from Nazi Germany to the New World, has mastered Portuguese, has grown into a man and established a family and has come to terms with his tumultuous past. Scliar's prose, moreover, is simple and inviting, yet it compels the reader to meditate on Max's plight, his analytical nature and his constantly moving and often hilarious thought process (frequently, the reader must decide whether or not Max's adventures are merely fantasy).

In the end, this is an immensely enjoyable and engaging story; a parable that provokes thought and engages the reader from start to finish.

Max and the Cats
by Moacyr Scliar

  • Publication Date: November 25, 2003
  • Mass Market Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Plume
  • ISBN-10: 0452284538
  • ISBN-13: 9780452284531