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Merce Rodoreda (1908-1983)

Rodoreda, Mercè. La plaza del diamante (La Plaça del diamant). Barcelona: Edhasa, 1982 (1960).

Rodoreda, Mercè. Jardín junto al mar (Jardí vora al mar). Barcelona: Edhasa, 2004 (1967).

Rodoreda, Mercè. Cuánta, cuánta guerra (Quanta, quanta guerra...). Barcelona: Edhasa, 2002 (1980).

Rodoreda is probably my favorite novelist from twentieth-century Spain, even though I can’t read her in the original. (The other contender would be the perplexing Juan Benet, whom I’ll write about if I ever figure out anything.) This stay in Barcelona has corrected me of the belief that Catalan is much like Spanish—of major living languages, the nearest might be Italian—and I don’t know that Rodoreda in Spanish yields particular insights denied to Rodoreda in English, except that most of her books have yet to find an English version. Anyway, Spanish translations are what you can find here and I’ve read three of them.

There are certain authors, most of them women, whom I immensely admire for writing about cruelty and hardship without chest-thumping, without slipping into bogus metaphysics about the violence at the heart of things. La Plaça del diamant (English: The Time of the Doves) treats the Spanish Civil War with a quality I can only describe as decorum—in this case as a moral virtue, a kind of probity. War in this book means what it means for most people in war zones—shortage of food, shortage of work, occasional inexplicable threat of death and sustained pressure on those personal and familial bonds which are just as real as the war and can’t be abstracted from it. It’s with those bonds that the book begins and ends: the war is an entr’acte. Not apocalypse, just a terrifying change of scenery.

Quanta, quanta guerra... (no English version), Rodoreda’s last complete novel, takes the kernel of fear at the center of La Plaça del diamant and expands it to a full-blown symbolist production, drawing from picaresque narrative and dream language. Here Rodoreda has some affinity with Lorca’s generation of poets, all born a few years earlier, but her writing is always uniquely domestic, even when the characters are wandering through the wilderness: you can’t forget about supper and sleep. All three of the novels, with their construction centered on households, their multifaceted characters (those facets, plausibly, not being integrated all the way), and their plausibly errant life paths, reminded me a little of Rodoreda’s English contemporary Barbara Comyns, who lived sixteen years as an expatriate in Barcelona. I have to wonder if they ever met, how it could have happened. But of course it’s a big city, and one thing we know from their books is that everyone has always got enough worries to keep very busy.

 

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up (2008.08)

The Warm South
The Roof Rat Review