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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Max and the Cats

Moacyr Scliar

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To purchase Max and the Cats

Title: Max and the Cats
Author: Moacyr Scliar
Genre: Novel
Written: 1981 (Eng. 1990)
Length: 115 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: Max and the Cats - US
Max and the Cats - UK
Max and the Cats - Canada
Max and the Cats - India
Max et les chats - France
  • Portuguese title: Max e os felinos
  • Translated by Eloah F. Giacomelli

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Our Assessment:

B : some nice touches, but too spare

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly . 5/12/2003 Troy Patterson
The NY Times Book Rev. A 11/7/1990 Herbert Mitgang

  From the Reviews:
  • "The spare tale is written in the detached tone of half-forced allegory. But for all its resonant imagery and pleasing dreaminess, it's a story about predators without much bite." - Troy Patterson, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Moacyr Scliar (pronounced mwa-SEER skleer) has a big story to tell about human and inhuman beings. As his novel unfolds, his magic grows more realistic. (...) Remarkably, the author pulls all these strands together smoothly, with wisdom but without polemics, in novella form. (...) Max and the Cats is a brilliant novella. It may well inspire readers to turn to some of Moacyr Scliar's other works available in translation" - Herbert Mitgang, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       There are three very different cats in Max Schmidt's life in the three-part novella, Max and the Cats. Though very short, the book is a life-story, covering the significant parts of Max's life, from his birth in Berlin in 1912 to his death in Brazil in 1977.
       His father was a furrier, and so "Max grew up amid furs", but the family-store was named The Bengal Tiger, after the prominently displayed stuffed tiger which Max's father had shot in India -- an animal that Max had always been afraid of. It's just a stuffed animal, a backdrop, but seems always to be watching over him, a silent witness.
       Max is more focussed on himself and his own pleasure than what is going on around him in Germany at this time, but eventually he is forced to flee. He gets passage on a boat to Brazil, but it's not a passenger ship and, with a load of animals in the hold, turns out to be a trip to nowhere, Max soon finding himself in a dinghy on the open sea -- joined, soon enough, by a jaguar from the boat. Another uneasy relationship with a feline develops, Max realising that, to the animal, he will always be the meal of last resort if nothing else is available .....
       In Brazil Max starts life over. As a German he faces some difficulties when Brazil declares war on Germany in 1942, but on the whole manages reasonably well. After the war he visits his homeland, but finds nothing there he can really return to. But in Brazil a new neighbour builds a house near his, and Max recognises him. This third variation of the feline-theme is a different yet equally threatening one, but Max confronts this one head-on, with the consequences treated as being relatively minor ones.
       Max and the Cats is a very compact life story, focussing only on particular episodes, but Scliar doesn't really do enough to suggest everything in the background. He has good ideas, but even that can be a drawback, as when he gets sidetracked by them, as in the stories Dr.Rudolf liked to tell the Brazilian Indians, starring Ego (a young craftsman) and his tormentors, Id (a foul-mouthed, hairy dwarf) and Super Ego (an aristocratic and authoritarian master). A great idea, but it's almost just tossed in there, to less than ideal effect.
       Not quite an allegory, not quite a straightforward life-tale, Max and the Cats often seems to stop just short when it should just be picking up steam; Scliar can't even do better than have Max get knocked out several times along the way, bringing the action to a crashing halt. There's marvellous material here, and some fine scenes and ideas, but it's not nearly fleshed out enough (or, if he were focussing on spareness, not nearly trimmed tightly enough).
       Appealing, but ultimately not entirely fulfilling.

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Max and the Cats: Reviews: Moacyr Scliar: Other books by Moacyr Scliar under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar (1937-2011) was also a physician.

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© 2007-2011 the complete review

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