Tag Archives: Catalan Literature

Review: War, So Much War by Mercè Rodoreda

I received an ARC from Open Letter Press through Edelweiss.  This English edition has been translated by Martha Tennent

My Review:
War So Much WarAdrià 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:
Merce RMercè Rodoreda i Gurguí was a Spanish / Catalan novelist.

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.


Filed under Classics, Literature in Translation, Novella, Spanish Literature

Review: Life Embitters by Joseph Pla

I received an advanced review copy of this title from Archipelago Books through NetGalley.  This is my second contribution to Spanish Literature month host by Richard at http://caravanaderecuerdos.blogspot.com/ and Stu at https://winstonsdad.wordpress.com/.

My Review:
Life EmbittersThis is an interesting book to categorize as far as literary genre is concerned. At first glance these narratives are really a set of short stories and each have their own plot and can be read individually.  However, they also remind me of the popularity nowadays of fictional autobiography: the works of Karl Ove Knausgard, Elena Ferrante and George Gospodinov all come to mind.  Pla relates to us different experiences in his life with some creative embellishments or inventions of conversations for which he was not present.  Pla takes us across Europe, from his native home in Barcelona to Paris to Rome he describes interesting characters and beautiful settings.

The 600 pages of this book take quite a while to get through and such a long book makes it difficult to write a focused review.  But I want to highlight a few patterns and themes that I noticed are weaved throughout the stories.  What struck me most about Pla’s narrative is that one is never really sure where he is going next with his tales.  We follow him on this meandering path of sentences and all of a sudden a new character is introduced, or a character dies, or a story abruptly ends.

Pla is never a permanent resident at any one place for a long time; as a result of his extensive travels, one of Pla’s favorite settings is the boarding house, many of which he resides at in various cities.  His story entitled, “A Death in Barcelona ” is a great example of the unexpected twists that appear in the narrative and is also set in one such boarding house in Barcelona.  The male boarders fight and bicker with each other and there seems to be a division along the lines of those who pay and those who live off of the others for free.  They all seem to be secretly in love with the mistress of the boarding house, Sra Paradis.  The story takes an unexpected turn when one day, a Swiss boarder living in the house dies and the story revolves around arrangements for the funeral of the Swiss man.  All of the boarders dress up and attend the funeral and on the way back a fight breaks out among the boarders.  Their petty complaints and annoying habits bubble to the surface as the funeral procession is winding its way home.  The story ends when two of the residents decide to leave but have no real prospects of where to go next.

Another patten of  Pla’s is that he likes to tell stories about his friends.  We are introduced to many friends and acquaintances who have interesting life experiences.  One of my favorite of his “friend” stories is about a fellow Catalan named Mascarell who, at age thirty-four, is engaged to a woman fourteen years his junior.  He is embarrassed and depressed when she breaks off their engagement.  Pla goes through a long and interesting story about why the young woman broke off with Mascarell.  Apparently the young woman’s father all of a sudden decides that he does not approve of his daughter marrying an old bachelor.  What really pushes her father over the edge is when she adopts a kitten and names it after her fiancé; the father is horrified that she does such an impulsive thing and demands that she break off the engagement.

At this point Mascarell disappears to Paris where he will not run into anyone he knows.  He meets a woman named Fanny that he is attracted to and with whom he has many interesting conversations.  But Mascarell’s old melancholy keeps creeping up on him and one day at dinner she calls him an “un homme fatal.”  This upsets Mascarell greatly and, in typical Pla fashion, the story takes an unexpected turn when Mascarell consults his Neopolitan barber, Sr. Giacomo, about Fanny’s comments.  The narrative at this point includes a long description of the barber, his clientele, and his relationship with Mascarell.  The barber is finally direct with Mascarell and tells him that being an ” un homme fatal” means that one is a “moron.”  Mascarell is so upset by the barber’s answer that he immediately decides to leave Paris and with Mascarell’s departure from this city the story ends.  We are left wondering what happened to Mascarell and if he was ever able to get over being a “homme fatal.”

I am so glad to have come across Pla’s stories in time for Spanish Literature month.  I highly recommend giving these stories a try–the book can be read all at once or the stories can be read individually over an extended period of time.

About The Author:
Joseph PlaJosep Pla i Casadevall (known as José Pla in Spanish) (March 8, 1897, Palafrugell, Girona – April 23, 1981, Llofriu, Girona) was a Catalan journalist and a popular author. As a journalist he worked in France, Italy, England, Germany and Russia, from where he wrote political and cultural chronicles in Catalan.

The most important characteristics of the “planian” style are simplicity, irony, and clarity. His works show a subjective and colloquial view, “anti-literary”, in which he stresses, nevertheless, an enormous stylistic effort by calling things by their names and “coming up with the precise adjective”, one of his most persistent literary obsessions.

Pla lived completely dedicated to writing. The extent of his Obres Completes – Complete Works (46 volumes and nearly 40,000 pages), which is a collection of all his journals, reports, articles, essays, biographies and both long and short novels.

His liberal-conservative thought, skeptic and uncompromising, filled with irony and common sense, keeps sounding contemporary, completely current, even though it seems to contradict the current cultural establishment same as it did with its completely opposed antecessor. His books remain in print and both Spanish and Catalan critics have unanimously recognized him as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.


Filed under Literature in Translation, Spanish Literature