By Troy Patterson
December 05, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Max and the Cats

Last year, Yann Martel, a Booker Prize winner for Life of ”Pi,” informed reporters that his book (about a boy and a tiger sharing a lifeboat) was inspired by a John Updike review of Scliar’s 1980 novel. (As it happens, no such review exists. Weird.) In any case, ”Max,” first published in Brazil and now back in print, shares with ”Pi” only a fablelike quality, a shipwrecked cat, and heavy symbolism. Scliar’s hero is a German boy who flees pre-World War II Berlin and, after a mid-Atlantic encounter with a jaguar, lands in Brazil, only to find himself escaping fascists again. 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.

Max and the Cats

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