Wherever you are in the world, especially if you’re in an English-speaking country or Northern Europe, the great excitement over the upcoming British Royal Wedding probably won’t have escaped you. Prince William and Kate Middleton will be tying the knot in Westminster Abbey this Friday, 29th April, and the nation is rejoicing (largely, it must be said, because the Bank Holiday Friday, added to the following Bank Holiday Monday, means a four day weekend! Yippee!). And so, in honour of the big occasion, and because I’ve had a review pending on a related novel for a couple of months now, I thought it might be fun to talk about another Royal Wedding, which took place almost exactly 105 years ago, on 31 May 1906, and which sparked huge popular interest in both Britain and Spain.
The happy couple in the engagement photo on the postcard above left are Princess Ena of Battenburg, who despite her name was a British Princess, and King Alfonso XIII of Spain. Ena, or to give her full name, Victoria Eugenie Julia Ena (1887-1969) was the grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, by Victoria’s youngest daughter Princess Beatrice – whose married name was Princess Henry of Battenberg. Because her mother was Queen Victoria’s youngest child, and therefore by Victorian convention responsible for looking after her widowed mother and keeping her company, Ena was born at Balmoral and remained part of the royal household until her marriage. Her father, Prince Henry of Battenberg, died of malaria en route to fight in the Ashanti War in 1895, when she was just 8 years old.
The postcard above left, like the one on the right which shows the King and his new Queen with their mothers, is from a series of at least nine postcards published in 1907 by Rotary Photographic,* part of the surge of popular mutual interest between Spain and Britain that followed the marriage announcement. A quick bibliographical survey of UK-published books on Spain during the first decade of the 20th century shows a sudden and unprecedented peak in 1906 and 1907, much of it down to the ever-resourceful Albert Frederick Calvert, a dodgy entrepreneur with a keen eye for a quick buck, who was editor and principal author of the colourful and comprehensive John Lane Spanish Series, which ran between 1906 and 1912. Calvert swiftly spotted the opportunities provided by this new Anglo-Spanish connection, and rushed out Alfonso XIII in England (1905) and the privately printed The Spanish Royal Wedding (1906), later dedicating volumes of the Spanish Series to the King, his mother, his mother in law, his sister, and the Spanish Ambassador to London (it paid off - Calvert eventually collected a range of honours from the Spanish Court).
Ena and Alfonso first met during his state visit to England in the summer of 1905, when she was seventeen and he was nineteen. After a fairly rapid courtship, they were engaged in January 1906, and married at Madrid’s San Jerónimo monastery on 31 May of the same year. Famously, the wedding party was the target of a bomb attack, which, unsurprisingly, tainted the early months of Ena’s relationship with her adopted country: as they passed up Madrid’s Calle Mayor on their way back to the Royal Palace, the anarchist Mateu Morral threw a bomb, concealed in a bouquet, at the newlyweds’ carriage. While he missed his primary target, a number of guards and bystanders were killed. Our old friend Rachel Challice, who visited the couple the following year, writes in The Secret History of the Court of Spain (source of the picture, left, of Princess Ena in her wedding dress) that:
the tragedy of the bomb cast in the bouquet, which caused so much disaster, came like a sudden frost, and nipped the spontaneous joy of the young Queen, and the drives and walks in the city of Madrid became a source of fear instead of joy … The people, therefore, are a little disappointed at their greetings not meeting with the quick response of the first days in her new land; and as Spaniards would do anything for a smile, and love to see happiness, this inborn terror, begotten of the tragedy of her wedding-morn, would form a barrier between the English Queen and her people, were they not reminded of the source of the set expression on her face (pp.316-317).**
And so now for the review … look away now if you want to avoid spoilers (and/or a slight sense of ickiness):
First up, I have to give all credit to Moya for writing the novel directly in English rather than Catalan or Spanish. She explains on her website that this was because she is based in London, and had the opportunity to workshop her writing with a writers’ group, so English became a natural medium. As somebody who works with and sometimes in foreign languages, I know the profound effort it takes to find one’s own voice in a new language – quite apart from worrying over grammatical accuracy or whether you’ve quite understood the nuance of a particular combination of words, it’s a question of finding a new rhythm and with it, inevitably, a new perspective. I won’t lie, there were parts of the writing where the rhythms and combinations felt … unfamiliar … to me, so that towards the beginning, especially, I found myself straining for the echoes of what I imagined to be Moya’s suppressed Catalan voice. Of course, the absence of complete domestication is no bad thing at all, and in fact, it’s this unfamilarity of expression that creates the slightly dislocated atmosphere that I think is fundamental to our belief in the transformation of the novel’s central character, Maria.
I’m still here! Just been reading some great reviews of Belén Gopegui’s first novel, from 1993: La escala de los mapas / The Scale of Maps, in its new English translation by Mark Schafer, published by City Lights (I was at college with a Mark Schafer; I wonder if it’s the same one? He was studying Japanese back then…). Here’s Janet Potter’s take on it, and here’s Christopher Merkel’s, both at Bookslut - Potter reads it alongside Max Frisch, and Merkel reads it alongside Merce Rodoreda. Mythili G Rao writes on it too, over at Words Without Borders, comparing it with Nabokov and Borges, something which is picked up over at at By the Firelight.
I’ve never read any Gopegui myself, because she’s somewhat idiosyncratic, a committed Communist, extremely politically literate, and since I’m … um … none of those things, I’ve always been a bit afraid I won’t quite get her. These reviews, though, have convinced me to give it a go – although a bit of Googling has turned up that this Mark Schafer is definitely *not* the one who made fabulous sushi and let me watch Polish tv via his satellite back in the day!
Today, for your delectation and delight, we have a guest blog from Mr Books-on-Spain, who normally writes over at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel. I haven’t read this one yet myself, but when I do, I’ll post an update from my decidedly non-mystery-fan perspective. Over to you, Mr Books-on-Spain:
I promised myself when I started writing my blog to always start with the positive things about a book. Well, Water-blue Eyes is short. Um… can’t think of much else at the moment.
This book is from 2006 originally having won the Brigada 21 Prize for best first crime novel. Due to being unfortunately monolingual, I read the English translation. I generally shy away from translated works, as most of them in the genre tend to be bleak Scandinavian thrillers that have never really clicked with me (well, the first chapters didn’t anyway), but as, thanks to my good lady wife, I’ve spent some amazing times in Galicia, I felt that I couldn’t pass up a book set in Vigo.
The plot concerns Inspector Leo Caldas and his investigation into the murder of a saxophonist, found tied to a bed with (brace yourself) his genitals burned and shrivelled by the injection of concentrated formaldehyde. Caldas investigates and I wish I could summon up the enthusiasm to recount the plot basics in any more detail.
So what’s the problem here? It’s hard to say, given it could be the source material or the translation of it, but I didn’t find the book engaging. It took me four days to read 160 pages. That’s very slow for me. On the translation side of things, there are parts that annoy me, in particular the complete lack of any Spanish phrases in the dialogue. I understand this choice, but the use of particularly English words like “boss” and certain naughty words seemed jarring to me. There seemed to me to be a lack of atmosphere – Galicia is a beautiful part of the country, but I found the descriptions quite cold. Apart from the descriptions of the goose barnacles though – that just made me hungry.
I can’t blame the translator for the plot and characters though. Caldas’ sergeant, Estévez, is as repellent a good guy as you’ll ever meet and gets absolutely no come-uppance for his violent and homophobic actions, let alone kicking a cute dog at one point. His presence had me reading faster just to find a section of the book that he wasn’t in. And, of course, for me it all comes down to the plot.
The cover blurb carries a (translated) statement from El País, which rather strangely focuses on, of all things, the novel’s brevity: “Villar’s prose is brilliantly concise”. This is a problem when what could have been an intelligent plot to frame someone for the murder is raced through, both in execution and explanation. A particular cheat is used when Caldas mentions that he missed something when examining the scene of the crime – mystery speak for the reader has missed something – but going back to it, the detail in question isn’t there, and you won’t spot what passes for a clue unless you’re an expert in German philosophy.
I usually like to summarise the good points and not dwell on the bad, so I would recommend anyone who still wants to read this to learn Spanish and read the original – that would cut out some of the problems. But if the reader out there is looking for a great crime novel, browse through the rest of my blog. There are much better things out there.
The folks over at Three Percent, the fabulous resource for international literature based at the University of Rochester in the US, have just released the longlist for the 2011 Best Translated Book Awards. There are 25 books, from 19 countries, written in 12 languages, and I’me excited to see several Spanish-language authors included (translator name in brackets): César Aira’s The Literary Conference (Katherine Silver), Mario Benedetti’s The Rest is Jungle and Other Stories (Harry Morales), Javier Marías’s Bad Nature, or, with Elvis in Mexico (Esther Allen), Martín Solares’s The Black Minutes (Aura Estrada / John Pluecker), and Emilio Lascano Tegui’s On Elegance While Sleeping (Idra Novey). You can find links to all of the books in the original announcement at Three Percent.
It’s an interesting longlist, with lots of novels and novelists I don’t know at all, and I’m looking forward to seeing which ones make the shortlist of ten, which is due to be announced on March 24th. BUT (there is always a but, isn’t there? I will hide it beneath the lines for those of you whose parades could do without the rain today…)
Granta Online has a wonderful interview with the poet and translator Rowan Ricardo Phllips, on translating from Catalan. Here’s a taster, follow the link for the rest:
This naked joy gained from the simultaneity betwixt and between two languages is the translator’s great pleasure and also, eventually, the translator’s great and inevitable loss. With Catalan I feel that loss rather sharply as the English version further comes into focus, options discarded, everything soon ossifying into the final draft and subsequent published translation. This is in part due to Catalan’s diaphanous literary status and our sad tendency to settle for the illusion of a single-tongued Spain: a mirage of a house with Castilian spackling its holes like sores. The result has been a very visitable but not entirely visible Spain.
It’s that time of year again – authors, critics, and (occasionally!) academics are asked to come up with their nominations for the year’s top books, according to various usually not terribly well-defined criteria. Pretty much every newspaper, magazine and cultural journal is in on the game, and Papeles Perdidos, the blog of the El Pais cultural supplement Babelia has just released the El Pais top books of 2010. What strikes me is just how little relation this list has with the bestsellers I’ve been reporting on during the last few months; we’ll find out tomorrow, when they publish the essays and analysis, how the 50+ critics and authors they consulted came to their decisions. In the meantime, here’s the top ten (actually twelve!); for the rest, follow the link at the bottom of the page:
1- Verano [Summertime]: J. M. Coetzee (Mondadori)
2- Poesía reunida [Collected Poetry]: William Butler Yeats (Pre-Textos)
3- Blanco nocturno [Night Target]: Ricardo Piglia (Anagrama)
4- El sueño del celta [The Dream of the Celt]: Mario Vargas Llosa (Alfaguara)
5- El amor verdadero [True Love]: José María Guelbenzu (Siruela)
6- Retratos y encuentros [The Gay Talese Reader: Portraits and Encounters]: Gay Talese (Alfaguara)
7- Algo va mal [Ill Fares the Land]: Tony Judt (Taurus)
8- Dublinesca [Dublinesque]: Enrique Vila-Matas (Seix Barral)
9- Tarde o temprano. Poemas 1958-2009, [Sooner or Later. Poems]: José Emilio Pacheco (Tusquets)
10- Esencia y hermosura. Antología [Essence and Beauty. Anthology]: María Zambrano (Galaxia Gutenberg/Círculo de Lectores)
10= Tiempo de vida [Time of Life]: Marcos Giralt Torrente (Anagrama)
10= Tierra desacostumbrada [Unaccustomed Earth]: Jhumpa Lahiri (Salamandra).
Some brief statisticky thoughts off the top of my head: 10 men (eight living, one died 1939, one died 2010) vs 2 women (one living, one died 1991) – it is also notable that only ONE OTHER WOMAN (last year’s Nobel Laureate Herta Müller) appears in the top 20, which makes 3 out of 29 in total, or a hit rate for the ladies of just over 10%; 7 Spanish-language, 5 translated; of the 7 Spanish-language, one is Argentinean, one Peruvian, one Mexican, and four Spanish; in terms of genre, there are 6 novels, two poetry anthologies, three non-fiction works, and a memoir. It is also worth noting (although not really surprising) that there are no books from Spain’s other languages in the list, although there are a number of Barcelona-born authors who write principally in Spanish.
This isn’t the time for detailed analysis or critique, although you can be sure that’s on its way (!), but … well … it’s worth a moment’s thought, not least because it is, I think, a reflection of the way in which old and new networks of prestige can come together to forge a sense of ‘global’ cultural value in which the same old assumptions rule, and the same old exclusions operate, albeit now with a slightly more cosmopolitan flavour. Admittedly, El Pais may not be the place to be looking for a reflection of the most groundbreaking contemporary currents, but seriously – NOT ONE book by a living Spanish woman? ONLY ONE (at no.16) by a living Spanish writer born outside Madrid or Barcelona? That, despite everything, still leaves me speechless.
See the rest of the top 20 (actually 29, because of all the tied votes) at: Verano, de Coetzee, Libro del año de Babelia >> Papeles Perdidos >> Blogs EL PAÍS.
I may have mentioned once or twice that I have a slight addiction to early 20th-century books on Spain, which has, on occasion, proved fairly expensive. Happily, however, the gems one turns up in a half hour’s browsing on AbeBooks or Antiqbooks are often as likely to cost in the £1s or £10s as in the £100s… This week I was excited to take delivery of two books ordered during a quiet half hour in the office last week (fortunately, there aren’t too many quiet half hours in the office, or the already overburdened local post office would be even more overburdened and therefore likely to hold onto my lovely books even longer than they did this time round… still, at least they didn’t keep it for more than a week like they did my much-anticipated DVD of North and South, which finally arrived on Saturday last).
So these two books are both by the Spanish journalist, writer and diplomat Isabel Oyarzábal Smith de Palencia (Malaga, 1878 – Mexico City, 1974): I Must Have Liberty (1940) and Smouldering Freedom (1945). As you can probably tell from her unusual collection of surnames, Oyarzábal was half Spanish (with Basque roots) and half British (with Scottish roots); she was brought up bilingual in Spanish and English, which is why the two books I’ve just acquired, like several of her others, were written directly in English. I knew a little bit about Oyarzábal already, mostly because of her Anglo connection, which brings her into the orbit of my interest in Anglo-Spanish relations since the 19th century, but also because she began publishing during the 1900s and so is one of the women included in my database project Spain’s Women Intellectuals, 1890-1920 - but the books are throwing up all sorts of fascinating connections.
How do publishers decide which of the hundreds of thousands of available foreign language books to translate and publish? The Spanish Publishers’ Association (FGEE) - the people who provide all the wonderful information that underpins my research on Spanish bestsellers - have a solution to help UK publishers find Spanish books to translate and publish. Twice a year, they get together with the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade and the Spanish Embassy in London, a specialist panel, and a team of expert readers, to produce a selection of New Spanish Books, to help UK publishers with just such a difficult decision. This summer, I collaborated with them for the first time as an expert reader, on the Autumn-Winter 2010 selection, which has just been released. Confession: the book I reviewed doesn’t appear in the final selection. It was a novel that had a lot going for it most of the way through, until it fell apart in the final act, which was a big disappointment. On the other hand, it’s brilliant to see a Galician book in the selection – Antón Riveiro Coello‘s As rulas de Bakunin (Bakunin’s Children), an historical novel about the Spanish civil war, which according to the website is already in its fifth Galician-language edition. Altogether, the panel selected eleven new books – check them out here. I haven’t read any of these books yet, but Kirmen Uribe’s Bilbao-New York-Bilbao has just worked its way to the top of my reading list, so look out for a review here soon!
A few weeks back I wrote about the summer reading lists published by pretty much every newspaper under the sun (and speaking of which … does The Sun publish one?). Here’s another piece of the puzzle – the Spanish literary magazine Qué Leer (What to Read) published Spain’s bestselling books for the month of July, a list that likely includes books bought for the express purpose of holiday reading. The bestselling book? The novel El tiempo entre costuras (literally ‘Time between the seams’), by first-time novelist María Dueñas, which was released back in June 2009. It’s a historical-romantic-thriller about a young Spanish seamstress in 1930s Spain, who follows a man to Morocco and finds herself caught up in a heady whirl of politics, intrigue and romance.
The second-placed book is also by a Spanish female novelist: Dime quien soy (‘Tell me who I am’) by Julia Navarro, released in February this year. It’s about a young Spanish journalist researching the life of her great-grandmother who fled Spain on the outbreak of war in 1936, and as well as a reflection on the task of recovering a life and a story from a series of fragments and traces, it’s marketed as an innovative telling of the history of 20th-century Europe. Both books are minutely-researched reflections on the intersection of individual lives with sweeping narratives of history, and both of them look as if they would be interesting propositions for the course I was talking about in the previous post.
Not sure I could say the same for the third book on the list and – shame on me! – the only one I have read (albeit in English): La segunda vida de Bree Tanner, which is the translation of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight-Eclipse spinoff novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, released in May this year. OT: What an odd choice to change the title. Did Bree get a stay of execution in the Spanish version?
See the full details here: Ranking venta de libro del mes Julio | Qué Leer – Revista.
What are people really reading in Spain? Last year, while I was researching an article on taste and the bestseller in the Galician publishing industry, I spent a lot of time digging around in the various reports about Spanish reading habits on the website of the Spanish Publishers’ Guild (Federación de Gremios de Editores de España, or FGEE). The ones that especially caught my eye were the ‘top tens’ – the top ten most bought and most read books and authors, which are often surprisingly different.* The first thing you notice about bestselling authors in Spain is how few of them are actually Spanish – in the 2008 report, the one I was using for my research, the split for ’most read’ authors was 50:50 between Spanish-language authors, and authors translated from English, while for ‘most bought’ the ratio was 40:60 in favour of translations. Of course, I was especially interested in the Spanish authors who had made it into the top ten, and one in particular caught my eye: Matilde Asensi, whom I had never even heard of. One of my projects this summer has been to read at least one of Asensi’s novels, of which more in an upcoming post…
But back to the lists. Not all of the reports, which go back to 2000, include the top ten most read authors in Spain, but here is a cross-section of those that do:
Today’s date is one of beginnings and endings in Spanish poetry:
The Spanish poet Íñigo López de Mendoza, the Marqués de Santillana, was born on this day in 1388 or 1398, which makes him either 612 or 622 today (happy birthday, sir!). Santillana was one of the first Spanish poets to try out the new sonnet form and to adapt it from Italian into Castilian; he wrote more than 40 sonnets, collected under the title Sonetos al itálico modo (Sonnets in the Italian Way). He was also a devoted and, apparently, fairly exacting father, as we can see from this letter to his son, Pedro González, when the poor lad was studying in Salamanca, asking him if he would mind terribly (on top of his studies!) translating a wodge of Latin poetry and prose for his old man. The tone of Santillana’s explanation of why he doesn’t feel up to learning Latin himself is wonderfully defensive, and seems to pre-empt a familiar argument with his harassed teenage offspring: ’Bien sé yo ahora que, según ya otras veces con vos y con otros me ha acaecido, diréis que la mayor parte o casi toda de la dulzura o graciosidad quedan y retienen en sí las palabras y vocablos latinos’ ‘I’m well aware that, as usual, you (and you’re not the only one) will tell me that most or all of the sweetness and wit is located in the Latin words and expressions.’ Nevertheless, he says, he’s too old to take up a new language, and so he will make do with translation as the most pragmatic alternative: ‘Y pues no podemos haber aquello que queremos, queramos aquello que podemos. Y si carecemos de las formas, seamos contentos de las materias’ ‘And since we can’t have what we want, let’s want what we can have. And if we can’t get hold of the forms, let’s be content with the themes’. If only we could see Pedro’s response!
Also on this date, but 74 years ago in 1936, Federico García Lorca, probably the most famous Spanish poet of all, was executed by Franco’s fascists on a country road near Granada. Lorca doesn’t really need any introduction, but if you want to read about his remarkable afterlife, I absolutely recommend Jonathan Mayhew’s wonderful Apocryphal Lorca: Translation, Parody, Kitsch (Chicago UP, 2009), which looks at how Lorca and his poetry (and sometimes poetry that is not by Lorca, but looks very much like poetry by Lorca) turn up in English translation and adaptation, and in different areas of American culture throughout the 20th century. There’s a fascinating conversation with Mayhew on Chicago’s blog, in which he discusses the origins of the book, which he apparently wrote in a single academic year. Like Mayhew’s blog, it’s a great insight into the scholarly-creative process.
In honour of Penguin’s 75th birthday (beware – audio!), I thought it would be fun to look at their lists and see which Spanish books they’ve included over the last 3/4 of a century – or at least, which Spanish books still appear on their electronic catalogues. Interestingly, the results look a lot like the undergraduate syllabus I followed at a certain large and well-known English university back in the 1990s, a syllabus which – looking at old exam papers - we students were pretty sure hadn’t changed in more than one or two details since the 1940s.
Like that syllabus, Penguin’s list does incorporate the major writers of the Latin-American boom of the 1960s, but then seems to have screeched to a halt. Lots of the books are published through Penguin Classics, which might explain the fairly … ahem … narrow demographic. It’s certainly an interesting reflection on which Spanish works are considered ‘world classics,’ insofar as that category is still very much alive and kicking in the publishing world. As a good feminist literary critic, I’m sceptical about the benefits of just inserting new voices into the existing canon without questioning the criteria of the canon itself; that said, if ‘world classics’ are the books that play a part in inter- or transnational cultural conversations, and so ought to be available to an English-speaking reader, there are plenty of classic and contemporary Spanish books by authors or both genders and writing in any or all of Spain’s co-official languages that fit the bill. I know my old university has begun the monumental and rather contentious task of dragging that famous undergraduate syllabus into the 21st century, so perhaps that will provide a catalyst, and where the undergraduates lead, Penguin will follow. ¡Ojalá!
So … back to what is included in Penguin’s Spanish lists. I’m very familiar with their versions of two major Spanish classics, La Regenta and Don Quixote, because they were translated by my DPhil supervisor John Rutherford. All personal bias aside, they’re both cracking reads in English, partly because in line with John’s philosophy of translation, the translations are so daring and so full of life, wit and energy, which is especially important in a work like Don Quixote. Interestingly, while the UK Penguin Quixote has an introduction by the translator, the US Penguin replaces it with one by a big-name US Hispanist. I was thrilled to see that after letting La Regenta go out of print for years - a minor scandal because it’s FABULOUS and a classic on the level of Madame Bovary or Effie Briest - Penguin have finally re-issued it, although just now it only seems to be available on Penguin US, so UK readers may have to wait a while longer.
For far too long now, the translator has been relegated to the rear-facing backseat of the literary world; the ever-so-smaller “translated by” name towards the bottom of the title page that few people (save those of us passionate about literature in translation) give more than a cursory glance to. But in Suzanne Jill Levine’s book, The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction, the translator’s role is at last given full and detailed attention in a vibrant and unique way. Levine’s goal with her book is to:
‘Make the translator’s presence (traditionally invisible) visible and comprehensible…Far from the traditional view of translators as servile, nameless scribes, the literary translator can be considered a subversive scribe. Something is destroyed—the form of the original—but meaning is reproduced through another form.’
As somebody who tries – albeit not as prolifically (or successfully!) as Levine – to tread that border between literary criticism and literary translation, I’m excited to read this. As LeTourneau writes in her review, it’s not often that a translator is acknowledged at all, so to see a translator given the space to reflect at length and in depth on her practice is a real treat.
Writing on Wednesday in Papeles Perdidos (Lost Papers, the blog of El Pais’s cultural supplement Babelia), Winston Manrique Sabogal posted a list of ‘holiday reading’ recommendations. I always look forward to these in the UK press over the summer, partly to see if I can spot the connections between recommender and recommendee before Private Eye does, and partly to see if anybody in London literary circles has been reading any of the same things I have. I don’t have a good record with these things – of last year’s 100 Best Holiday Reads according to The Times* I didn’t manage a single one, and I read a LOT. Admittedly, this is partly because the holiday reading lists, as a marketing exercise for contemporary publishing, don’t tend to include trashy early 20th-century novels about Spain and partly because I generally ignore all the the new stuff from the Big Beasts of English literature (though according to Gabriel Josopivici in Guardian Books this week, that might not be such a bad thing…), but it does highlight, yet again, the relentless marketocracy and anglocentrism of the UK publishing sector. Of the Times’s 100 ‘best holiday reads,’ I think only four were translated from other languages: in fiction, Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 and Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma, and in crime fiction, Boris Akunin’s The Coronation and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul to Take. Nothing in the non-fiction categories was anything but Anglo, which is pretty disappointing, if entirely unsurprising.
Brilliant to see a new, small independent press that publishes translations from smaller literatures getting its props in the national press:
Not that this story of life in the Pyrenees at the beginning of the 20th century is a barrel of laughs. The Spanish civil war looms over Barbal’s solid, three-act structure – uprooting, marriage, revolution – lending a granite inevitability to the bad times that are “just waiting behind all the laughter”. But the compression is so deft, the young narrator’s voice so strong, so particular, her straightforward evocation of the hard labour and rare pleasures of mountain life #trout “cooked on a hot stone with pieces of bacon”; the heady whirl of a village dance where, “when the music stops, his smile makes me start breathing again”# so vibrant, that it makes me want to take scissors to everything else I read.
Stone in a Landslide was also reviewed at some length by Daniel Hahn in the Independent (this is just the opening – click through below for the full article):
Stone in a Landslide is the second book from Peirene Press, a new publisher of contemporary European literature which aims to bring English readers “important literary works that have never before been translated”. In some ways it’s an eminently suitable choice – a short novel translated from Catalan, by a writer unknown to the English-speaking world. At the same time, it’s a rather bold choice – not because it’s a particularly avant-garde, boundary-challenging work #it isn’t#, but because it’s all so simple and so quiet that it’s rather hard imagining this to be the one to set the world alight.
The book has been widely read in the blogosphere, and readers seem divided between those who find it a delicate, evocative chamber piece and those who find it … well, a little bit dull actually. Not yet having read it for myself, I reserve judgment, but I’m looking forward to it – and I think I’ll be reading the translation, since my Catalan is .. ahem … limited to say the least.