Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda

Death in Spring by  Mercè Rodoreda

Spanish Catalan fiction

Original title –  La mort i la primavera

Translator – Martha Tennet

Source – personnel copy

Well, I read the first of my post-holiday reads in a day. This book came out a few years ago in the US and earlier this year here as part of a new penguin series into European voices. Merce Rodoreda was considered one of the leading novelist of her time. her novel The time of the doves has been considered the greatest Catalan novel. She lived most of her life in Exile in France and Switzerland away from the Franco regime only returning later on in her life to Spain towards the end of the Franco years.

I craned my head out of the water. The light was stronger now, and I swam slowly, wanting to take my time before leaving the river. The water embraced me. It would have seized ,e if I had let it , and – pushed forward and sucked under- I would have ended up in the place where nothing is comprehended.Reeds grew in the river; the current bent them, and they let themselves be rocked by the water that was carrying the force of the sky, earth and smow.

The opening lines have that feel of nature cling to the people of the village .

Now I said this was a novella I wanted to read as I saw it as a male version of the book Stones in a landslide.Which was one of my favourite novels of all time. But this is a very different coming of age novel. This is a visceral novel of a boy becoming a man in a remote village that still clings to the past. There is like the scenery around the book vines and forest of death as it is called there is a sense of a world. Being caught out of time and maybe for our narrator, there is no way out of it. Nature captures people, like the dead body in the river. returned to the river.The bridges that never seem to be used a dense forest give the Narrators world a closed in feel. The other characters his father dying, his stepmother the Blacksmith and his odd son all give this a sense of the beauty and horror of nature. A boy becomes a man in a strange world a wonderful narrated world of mountain villages.

When they pulled the boy from the river, he was dead, the returned him to the river. Those who died in the water were returned to the water. The river carried them away and nothing was ever known of them again.But at night, at the spot where the bodies were thrown into the water, a shadow could be seen.Not every night. Not today or tomorrow, but on certain nights a shadow trembled,They said the shadow of the dead returned to the place where the man was born.They said that to die was to merge with the shadow.

I was so remind of Marquez with this lines and the river which in his books is a powerful prescense as well.

This is a novella that like many great shorter books seems much more than its parts. It is full of descriptions of the world around them at times this is maybe a metaphor for how Franco strangled the country. There is also for me an echo of the works of Marquez the village her is a Spanish cousin of Marquez’s Macondo village. The same sense of a place cling to its customs and superstitions of the outside world this is a world the character is trapped in like those vines and even if he escapes there is moss to slip on, bridges to cross and rivers to survive. Hope is always there but like a dim light in the valley below the village.

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Stones in a landslide by Maria Barbal

stones in a landslide

Stones in a landslide by Maria Barbel

Catalan fiction

Original title – Pedra de Tarera

Translator – Laura McGloughkin and Paul Mitchell

Source – Review copy

Bored yet busy with my hands
Cargill you’ll have me round the bend
Cargill you’re pulling all the strands
Of my heartstrings entangled in your net

My luck’s turned thrawn
Always the quayside chores
A sister on each arm
Strong of shoulder weak at the knees
Cargill I’m the finest catch that you’ll land

Cargill do not presume to understand
The dread of counting home the fleet
The sudden thrill of seeing you’re safely back
Your catch has fallen at your feet

King Cresote Lyrics for Cargil from his recent album seemed perfect he comes from a small village near my Aunties house in fife .

Well when asked for my favourite book by Peirene , I always say this one , I sometimes thnk I may be the only person  that thinks it is their best at the time  when I read it five years ago was a perfect book .So I was a bit scared to reread this one , would it be the same now as it was then ? would I connect with it as I did five years ago ?  Well we will find out in a min , the real sad point of this story is Maria Barbal hasn’t had any more books translated and brought out in English  since this one came out  , which is a shame !

My aunts and uncle’s house was very big almost as big as my parents house ‘ at Ermita .Many years ago it must have been a house full or people and hustle and bustle because it had a ground floor and two storeys and then a loft under the roof

Amazed at the size ,but also how empty the house she has come to work is .

Stones in a landslide is the story of one woman , well woman when we first meet her she is really still a girl Conxa , who at 13 is sent from her own little village to another Village , to work for her better off aunt .This is like being torn from one world to another for the young girl , then years later she falls in love with a man .But is this to be cut short by the spanish civil war ?

They liked everything ; the chorizo and the black pudding ,the cuts of ham .They liked the bacon .Its much tastier than the stuff down their ,they would say .I enjoyed seeing how they kept helping themselves to more and the way they used their knives .

early on in new village , I choose the same quote as I did in the first review as it shows Conxa’s wonder at her new life .

Now in my first review , I marvelled in the small world of Conxa , how even the short journey from her home village to her aunts village ,in her eyes is like moving from one world to another ! .I compared it at the time to the Northumberland I heard of as a young man working in a day centre with the elderly ,when they used speak about the small villages and places in and around Alnwick struck me the same as conxa’s world and still did .But now more than five years ago ,has this world gone ? when we all spend our lives looking at glowing screens of various sizes , has the village died ? somewhat but through books like this it is kept alive .A world caught in Amber so to speak and we are the outsides looking in at it .So did it hold up to my placing it top of Peirene pile well yes it did , is it still my favourite yes it is so to go back to last part of my review and actually part of my early reviews I may bring back !

Winston’s score

mountain goat a bit mad I used compare books to things but this book is like the mountain goat symbol of the Pyrenees this book is tough and clings to the mountain of the mind !

spainsh goat ,via telegraph website

Winstons books a huge bestseller you’ll never have heard of !

IMG_1950

Well this picture is a bit of a tease a new publisher  from Holland launching in 2015 , all I  can say is they sent me four books under embargo to 2015 , although one of them happens to be married to the biggest writer in translation at the moment ,well the most talked about anyway !

IMG_1951

I’ve been aware of this book for about six months , a huge bestseller around the world arrives in English Latvia where Zigmunds Skujins is from has one of the best read, read public out there and every one of his books is seen as an event there .This book is a political satire that mirrors 18th century Baltic life with a narrator in the present day .It also wins the title for the strangest  title I may read flesh coloured dominoes ,I can’t wait to see why that is the title .

IMG_1952

Another book that has been on my radar since meeting the folks from maclehose press in early summer , the uncertain glory by Joan Sales is a classic of Catalan fiction ,published for the first time in English ,called a Catalan answer to Homage to Catalonia or for whom the bells tolls and is one of three books from catalan coming out this autumn I have read one of the other two Confessions ,but won’t get chance to read the other just yet as it is from a publisher I don’t get books from .

Russian stories by Francesc Serés

russian stories

Russian stories by Francesc Serés

Spanish fiction (or russian !)

Translator from Catalan Peter Bush

Translator from Russian Anastasia Maximova

Original  title Contes Russo

Source – review copy

Fransesc   Serés is a Catalan   writer he studied fine art and Anthropology at university ,after this he became a writer he has publish over ten books of novel and short stories in Spain and has also produced a number of stage works . He is also a professor of art history and a Russophile .

Consequently , if it weren’t for this confession of mine , nobody would know that Elvis Presley gave a concert in Moscow’s red square.

Yes , you heard me , a concert in Red square in 1958

It was one of the many demonstrations of strength the superpowers made during the cold war .A stupid one , but it was ,at the end of the day , a demonstration of strength .

Well imagine if the King had played in Moscow .

Frnacesc Serés happen in his love of Russian literature this lead him to coming  across a unmined wealth of lost , writing that hadn’t seen the light of day outside Russia .He gathered together 21 different stories from five new to us in the west  writers spanning the history of modern Russia .We start in modern Russia Ola Yevgueniyeva born in 1967 writes about Putin’s Russia stewardess contrast their world and the places they go and how their world is changing .Also a wonderful story of a chess match between an old gent and a young girl almost showing the change in modern Russia from the older player to the younger player .Then we move back through time with each subsequent writer .The next writer  Vera-Margarita she evokes the soviet past story of red square mentions of Lenin and Stalin .Then we get to Vitali Kroptkin and my favourite story Elvis Presley sings in Red Square ,did you know that Elvis had song in Red square in 1958 well he had new KGB files show ,a fun look at what could have happened had the King played in Russia .Then  we have Aleksandr Volkov he wrote of the post world war two soviet regime also how bizarre the state could be at times given the story about Voromians ,I liked this because it was just them remove the name and it is at heart of a number of incidents involving separate races with in the soviet sphere .The last writer Josef Bergghenko takes us to a pre world war two soviet times .

Voromians are pleasant , the odd one even looks at her as if he regonises her . one couple are called Var and Mirtila , like so many they ask her where they will be taken .She can’t think what to reply

A group that have been moved by the purges .

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it well it is amazing to discover these unknown writers ,ha nearly had you no the book is entirely made up by the writer francesec  Serés it is an homage to soviet writing but also a look into maybe what might have been written .He manages to pull it off with great style each writers piece do seem as thou they are from a different voice they are completely from the hands of Fransesc  Serés he has playfully mixed styles of contemporaries of the figures he is writing about so you get sense of these writers writing in their time echoes of kafka the fun of Bulgakov  .A book for fans of Russian literature but also the likes of Borges .I also discovered an interesting interview here it is in Spanish but comes across reasonably well via google translate .

Lost Luggage by Jordi Punti

Jordi-Punti lost luggage

Lost luggage by Jordi Punti

Spanish fiction

Original title -MALETES PERDUDES

Translator – Julie Wark

Source – review copy

Jordi Punti is one of the rising voices in Catalan literature ,born in 1967 ,he moved to Barcelona to study  philology ,then went to work for a publishing house in Barcelona ,where he has worked translating writers such as Pennac ,Nothomb and Auster .He also writes poetry and in the newspapers regularly as well as novels and short stories .Lost luggage is his first book to be translated to English.

If we’re going to make progress we Christopher’s now need to return to carrer to Napols The first time we four brothers met in Barcelona , incredulous,suspicious and still dumbfounded by the revelations . Cristòfol showed us our fathers Mezzanine flat .

They start on their quest for Gabriel .

Well lost luggage as a title has a double meaning, the first comes from the main figure in the book. Gabriel a truck driver ,he was an orphan and went into trucking with his two friends he knew growing up ,after he left the orphanage .They literally on every trip the took in the truck around Europe, lost luggage  a box  Would disappear and the three friends divide them up all this was during the reign of Franco in Spain dark days indeed .The second meaning is lost luggage is what Gabriel left behind ,this is how we are introduced to him via his first son  Cristòfol the Spanish son and until this point when contact by the police that his father has gone missing ,he hadn’t seen him in 20 years ,he doesn’t know him to well has disappeared .This leads him to met three other  men called Christof, Christophe and  Christopher ,they are his half brothers his father had whilst trucking  .And are from Great Britain , France and Germany .So they meet not til this point,they were  unaware  of one another’s existence to this point  .All the more than they only have  slim facts from  their  respective mothers told them about Gabriel so the go on a quest to find him and learn about him .Along the way they become the Christopher’s like one and did his father ever got to Italy ? all this and more we find out .

Gabriel had learned to pace his relationship with his three equidistant women and three sons and ,like a good plate spinner ,he seemed to keep his cool .Of course ,the rules of the game were in his favour :he had his base camp in Barcelona ,where he lead a bachelor’s existence and ,thanks to removal work ,went to visit his famlies from time to time .

Gabriel described as plate spinner sounds right not easy what he did .

Well this book when it arrived reads like a headline from one of those women magazine” shock horror I discover my three half brothers with the same name “

the sort of thing you think oh no. I don’t want to read that .But no this is not that it is funny ,dark and at heart of this book is about how a moment of discovery can change the course of four lives for ever .We also get to the bottom of what motivate Gabriel to have these four children and why have they all got the same name ?Why did he run away from them ? Under all is the meaning of being lost whether boxes ,sons ,father ,mothers and living under Franco .Not overtly political we sense the wrongs of Franco regime .Punti as a Catalan a language that until after Franco wasn’t taught .This book is hard tom place in the cannon of Spanish fiction I ve read I think I need to read Monzo another Catalan writer to compare him too ,Like one of my favourite Spanish writers the Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga ,Punti shows how different the writing can be in Spain Catalan is language that developed separately to Spanish and one that seems to have a strong voice in its fiction if this book is anything to go out .

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