I received an ARC from Open Letter Press through Edelweiss. This English edition has been translated by Martha Tennent
Adrià Guinart lives in Barcelona with his mother and adopted younger sister. But at the first chance he gets he leaves his home and joins an unnamed war that is ravaging the countryside. He is only fifteen-years-old and what he sees while the war is raging forms the bulk of this bizarre and surreal narrative. The book almost reads like a series of shorts stories, each of which is based on a different character that Adria meets while he is away from home at war.
There is very little fighting or war that Adria actually sees while he is roaming the countryside. He stumbles upon the after affects of the war by meeting some wretched people along the way. He meets a woman named Eva who is a miller’s daughter. The book reads like a fantasy and sometimes the story is very disjointed and his episode with a woman named Eva is a perfect example. As he is wading in a river with her for a while he learns that she is a miller’s daughter. Their time together is very brief and when he parts from her he makes his way to the mill that her father owns. At the mill he is tied up and beaten by the miller and eventually escapes. He later meets up with Eva again, which second encounter seems even more random than the first. They have a brief conversation and she leaves him again.
Another strange episode that Adria experiences takes place at a farmhouse that he stumbles upon in the woods. When he first sees the owner of the house he is mercilessly beating his dog who has stolen a morsel of food. The farmer explains that there is nothing in this world that he despises more than a thief and so he unleashes his anger on the family pet. Adria stays with the farmer and his family for about two weeks doing chores for them in exchange for food and shelter. One night the farmer’s daughters take Adria to a hidden pantry where Adria steals a ham. When the farmer finds the ham, Adria suffers the same type of vicious beating that the dog received. At this point he is forced to leave the farmhouse and once again roam the countryside.
The randomness and lack of smooth transitions from one scene to the next give the book a dreamlike quality. It’s as if we have a front row seat to a viewing of Adria’s never ending nightmare. Adria comes upon a castle whose owner has been tied up and held hostage in his own home. He then wanders off once again and finds a girl on a beach who pledges her undying loyalty to him. When he rejects her, she walks into the sea and commits suicide. While walking along the sea Adria encounters a beach house where the owner welcomes him and feeds him. He ends up staying with the man who owns the beach house, Senyor Ardevol, for weeks and when the man dies he leaves his home and his possessions to Adria.
For the second part of the book Adria meets a series of interesting characters on the road whose stories are told in greater length. Adria starts with Ardevol’s story and how he came to live in the beach house and how he came to see the strange image in the mirror in his foyer. Adria also meets a cat man, a hermit and a man with a never-ending appetite, all of whom have strange tales to tell. Even with the shift of focus in the book from Adria himself to the people he meets on the road, the stories in the second part of the book are just as fantastical and surreal as Adria’s experiences in the first part.
I have mixed feelings about this book but I think that is due to my preference for more realistic fiction. The overall idea of the book is interesting but some of the shorter encounters of the main character, especially in the first half of the book, did not keep my attention. Has anyone else read any other books by Mercè Rodoreda? I am wondering if they are similar to this title.
About the Author:
She is considered by many to be the most important Catalan novelist of the postwar period. Her novel “La plaça del diamant” (‘The diamond square’, translated as ‘The Time of the Doves’, 1962) has become the most acclaimed Catalan novel of all time and since the year it was published for the first time, it has been translated into over 20 languages. It’s also considered by many to be best novel dealing with the Spanish Civil War.