A Publishing Superstar Whose Memoir Shuns Glitz to Explore Private Torment

Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Sadie Stein for The New York Times. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Photo Credit…Victor Moriyama for The New York Times

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In “The Absent Moon,” Luiz Schwarcz, a legendary Brazilian publisher and global tastemaker, shares little of the glamorous life, focusing instead on the lifelong pain of clinical depression.

“When I wrote the book, I said that it was for helping others,” says Luiz Schwarcz of his memoir. “Then I realized it’s mainly for me.” for The New York Times

Kazuo Ishiguro called him “lovely.” Andrew Solomon said he “raises the level of discourse across the country.” Salman Rushdie, who has not been in the habit of giving interviews while recovering from an attack, made an exception, calling him “a warm and deeply emotional human being” whose “cultural span is broad and deep.” He added, “I love him very much.”

The man in question, Luiz Schwarcz, is that most exotic of creatures, a publishing celebrity. He founded Companhia das Letras, the largest publisher in Brazil, but his influence can be felt across the literary world, where he has a reputation as a tastemaker with the power to make an author’s career.

With his wife, the anthropologist Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, Luiz Schwarcz is a central figure of Brazil’s intelligentsia, but also part of a cadre of publishing luminaries who broker deals on a global scale — “a creature of Frankfurt,” according to his longtime friend Jonathan Galassi, executive editor of the publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

“There are few people in publishing who really stand for quality and the enduring value of remarkable work,” said the literary agent Andrew Wylie. “Luiz is one of that very small number of people.”

Yet you’ll find none of that in Schwarcz’s memoir, “The Absent Moon,” which will be released in the United States by Penguin Press on Feb. 28. There are no anecdotes about Susan Sontag’s taste in Beethoven recordings or Oliver Sacks’s entertaining quirks. Certainly no litany of international awards or roster of celebrated writers both foreign and domestic.

The cover of the book contains the title, “The Absent Moon,” in black font at the top, followed by pitctures of pieces of paper, one of them with the subtitle, “A Memoir of a Short Childhood and a Long Depression,” written out in longhand.

Indeed, a reader coming to this slim, modest volume with no knowledge of the author would finish it knowing little of his celebrity, or his undeniable success. What they would see, instead, is a man grappling with bipolar disorder.

“I have got many friends, writers; they know that I am quiet, but they never knew what I had, what I have,” Schwarcz said in New York last month, in precise and lightly accented English. Indeed, to those who have known only the courtly, controlled man of letters with the encyclopedic knowledge of classical music, the account may come as a shock.

“I had no idea that he suffered from depression,” says Ishiguro, who has known Schwarcz, his Brazilian publisher, for some 20 years. And while Wylie has been aware of “certain difficulties,” he says, “we have never had a direct conversation about that.”

Here is Schwarcz frankly acknowledging the violence and outbursts occasioned by his bipolar disorder, the suicidal depths of his depression, the lifelong battle to find the right medication and navigate its side effects, the devastating effect of it all on his loved ones. The disease has informed every moment of his life.

Writing the book was perhaps cathartic; it was certainly destabilizing. Schwarcz describes a period of profound desolation following its entry to the world. “There was too much of me,” he said.

The topic is heavy, but — in yet another surprise — this memoir about depression has been a best seller in Brazil, where it was originally published as “O e Me Falt Ar Qua,” in 2021.

Part of the book’s power comes in the fact that Schwarcz is, by any measure, a success; those who can keep such illness to themselves are rarely inclined to share their struggles with the rest of the world. In part because of this reticence, the image of mental illness, for many, has become associated with the visibly unwell rather than with those who deal successfully — if constantly — with their conditions.

“Here’s somebody who is highly regarded and accomplished and who has suffered, you know, really quite terribly,” said Solomon, one of the friends who was aware of the extent of Schwarcz’s struggles. “And he does not whitewash his experience and he doesn’t turn it around into a happy ending.”

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

“A longtime contributor to the Book Review (see her piece on the mid-20th century “Career Romance” series), Sadie joined us earlier this year to help out when one of our editors went on leave. Not surprisingly, she didn’t want to leave and we didn’t want her to. Please join us in congratulating Sadie on her new staff position.

— Gilbert, Tina and Juliana”

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