Category: Catalonia Page 1 of 4

Rosa Maria Arquimbau: Quaranta anys perduts (Forty Lost Years)

The latest addition to my website is Rosa Maria Arquimbau‘s Quaranta anys perduts (Forty Lost Years). The novel tells the story of Laura Vidal, a Barcelona woman, from Francesc Macià declaring Catalan independence (14 April 1931) to 1971. She becomes a dressmaker and does reasonably well. However, the vicissitudes of life in Catalonia affect her, particularly the Spanish Civil War, when she flees the country for France, returning later. Above all, Laura is a feminist and independent woman and is not going to be told what to do, either by her family or men in general and steers her own path through the forty lost years. Arquimbau tells her tale well – Laura is clearly, at least to some degree, based on Arquimbau herself – even if she decides she has lost forty years.

Llorenç Villalonga: Mort de dama [Death of a Lady]

The latest addition to my website is Llorenç Villalonga‘s Mort de dama [Death of a Lady]. This was Villalonga’s first book and was a wicked satire on the Mallorcan upper class of the day. The eponymous lady is Obdulia de Monteada and, as the title and the beginning of the book tell us, she is dying and will die by the end of the book, though she takes her time doing so. She is eighty-four, realises that she is going to die and takes to her bed. We follow her scathing criticism of various people – her relatives, other Mallorcan aristocrats, foreigners and modern women. We see those who expect to inherit at least something – all will be disappointed. For the Mallorcan aristocrat of the day -and that very much included Obdulia – dying and funerals were the highlight of their lives. High society turns up and gossips while we also learn about the past – the aristocrat who died in a brothel and the lady poet who cannot rhyme. The book is wickedly funny but sadly not available in English.

Raül Garrigasait: Els estranys (The Others)

The latest addition to my website is Raül Garrigasait‘s Els estranys (The Others). The narrator is to translate the memoirs of Felix Lichnowsky, a Prussian army officer who fought in the Carlist wars in the mid nineteenth century. In his research, he come across the papers of Rudolf von Wielemann who was also there. Von Wielemann is an indolent Prussian who is sent by his father to Spain to help the Carlists and prove himself but when he gets there,he finds there is no role for him. He is left in Solsona when the army retreats and we follow both his stay in the battered but more or less deserted city as well as the comments on the situation by the narrator and his friend. In particular we see the conflict between Prussian order and Catalan disorder. Garrigasait uses a judicious mix of ribald humour and serious discussion to produce a first-class story.

Llorenç Villalonga: Andrea Víctrix (Andrea Víctrix)

The latest addition to my website is Llorenç Villalonga‘s Andrea Víctrix (Andrea Víctrix). This is a dystopian novel set in Palma de Mallorca but now called Turclub. Our unnamed narrator has himself frozen, aged sixty, in 1965 and wakes up in 2050, aged thirty. The first person he meets is the eponymous Andrea Victrix who, like most of the people there is androgynous. not least because, à la Brave New World, there is no more viviparous reproduction. It is all done in a laboratory. The US and Russia have destroyed one another and China is gone so the United States of Europe rules. Big business dominates and buying stuff you do not need is almost compulsory. Our hero and Andrea become close while (s)he tries to convert him to the new ways. However, our narrator and other unfrozen people and a 120 year old psychiatrist try to oppose it. When the economy really starts falling, things get problematical. While this is an excellent novel, Villalonga, through his characters, puts the various arguments for and against the new world (he is against) in a detailed but by no means off-putting manner. Another excellent book from Fum d’Estampa.

Eva Baltasar: Permagel (Permafrost)

The latest addition to my website is Eva Baltasar‘s Permagel (Permafrost). This novel is based on Baltasar being told by her therapist to write about her life, which she did, while adding quite a bit of colour to her real life. Our narrator is a lesbian, passionate about sex (but less so about life), suicidal, obsessed with reading, though ultimately quite lazy about her non-reading and non-sex life, concerned about her body and bodily functions and a good sister and aunt. We follow her excesses both in her waking and sleeping hours and her struggles to determine who she is and where she is going when she is not reading or having mad passionate sex. There no easy answers and that is what makes this book a fascinating read, as we we follow her struggles with life.

Max Besora: Aventures i desventures de l’insòlit i admirable Joan Orpí, conquistador i fundador de la Nova Catalunya (Adventures and Misadventures of the Extraordinary and Admirable Joan Orpí)

The latest addition to my website is Max Besora‘s Aventures i desventures de l’insòlit i admirable Joan Orpí, conquistador i fundador de la Nova Catalunya (Adventures and Misadventures of the Extraordinary and Admirable Joan Orpí). This is a wonderful, post-modern novel about the very real Joan Orpí who founded New Barcelona (now Barcelona), Venezuela. While there is a real book about him, this story is based on a tale told by a captain at the Siege of Barcelona and written down by a soldier and found by our narrator. Joan is a naive young Catalan who has a host of improbable and, at times anachronistic adventures, before ending up in what is now Venezuela, where he becomes governor of the city he has founded. However, his adventures are not over. It is very witty, very post-modern and very clever, with an unreliable narrator, anachronisms, improbable tales and parody everywhere.

Narcís Oller: La bogeria (The Madness)

The latest addition to my website is Narcís Oller‘s La bogeria (The Madness). This is a short novel set in the late nineteenth century about a Catalan engineer and landowner called Daniel Serralonga whom we watch slowly slipping into insanity. His parents soon fell out with his mother becoming very religious and his father a gambler. The father will disown Daniel’s younger sisters, saying he is not their father, so they are brought up by an aunt. The father will later kill himself. We are following the story through the eyes of an unnamed narrator, a lawyer, who is a friend of Daniel. He sees Daniel intermittently and each time there is some new episode dragging him towards instability – imprisonment for hitting a police commander, his obsession with General Prim and then conspiracy theories when the General is assassinated, a major inheritance dispute with his sisters, stock market problems. Each time we see him, he is looking worse and behaving more and more erratically. It is a delightful short novel, mocking, funny but also showing a certain amount of sympathy for a man who clearly cannot cope. The book is published by a new press – Fum d’Estampa Press – specialising in Catalan literature and I am looking forward to reading more of their publications.

Mercè Rodoreda: Jardí vora el mar (Garden by the Sea)

The latest addition to my website is Mercè Rodoreda‘s Jardí vora el mar (Garden by the Sea). This is a beautiful book, narrated by the gardener to a summer residence, serving successive families. We follow him as he carefully and lovingly tends the plants and garden while the well-to-do – the owner and their guests – come up from Barcelona for the summer. They and, indeed, the
other staff, have their various problems – love and romance, mental health, family – which he quietly observes and, on occasion, is called in to advise and assist with. However, he is at his happiest tending his plants or sitting in his small cottage, reminiscing about his late wife, while around him problems increase and even turn tragic.

Catalan Literature Part 2

I have now read twenty Catalan novels in a row, by twenty different writers. I cannot say that these novels were typical of the Catalan novel but nevertheless, I shall try and draw a few conclusions from my reading.

Definitely a Civil War novel

1) Catalans are still somewhat obsessed with the Spanish Civil War and Franco. This is not surprising, not least because other Spanish writers are too. The Spanish Civil War is still being fought in the Catalan and Spanish novel, even though it ended nearly eighty years ago. Presumably all combatants in that war are dead and there are probably relatively few people alive today who were children back then. Nevertheless it has certainly not been forgotten. Given that the American Civil War is still being fought, both in literature and in the real world, over one hundred and fifty years after it ended, we can expect to have more Catalan and Spanish Civil War novels for some time to come
2) Catalan writers like looking back at their past, by which I mean before the Civil War and Franco.
3) Not all Catalan were on the pro-Republic, anti-Franco side. At least three of these novels featured Catalans that supported Franco.
4) Humour does not seen to be a big part of the Catalan novel. Most of these were deadly serious. This review and this article indicate that there is Catalan humour but I barely found it in these novels.
5) Catalans like long novels. Several of these novels were quite long.

A favourite though 1000 pages long

If I have to pick a favourite, that would not be difficult. Surprisingly, and this is entirely coincidence, the last two I read were, I thought, the best, i.e. Jaume Cabré‘s Jo confesso (Confessions) and Mercè Rodoreda‘s La mort i la primavera (Death in Spring), both available in English. However, I also enjoyed Lluís-Anton BaulenasAlfons XIV : un crim d’estat [Alfonso XIV: A Crime of State], which is not available in English. The Cabré did have some humour in it; the other two definitely did not.

So now back to the rest of the world but I am already planning next year’s marathon.

Jaume Cabré: Jo confesso (Confessions)

The latest addition to my website is Jaume Cabré‘s Jo confesso (Confessions). This is the final book in my 2018 Catalan marathon. It is also the longest (around 1000 pages) and probably the best. It tells the story of a father and son, Felix and Adrià Ardèval, both obsessed with collecting rare manuscripts and other items, a rare and very valuable 18th century violin, whose owners all too often die a violent death, and the nature of evil, illustrated by the Holocaust (specifically two of the doctors working at Auschwitz) and, to a lesser extent, the Spanish Inquisition. We follow how Felix moved from being a possible priest to to becoming a ruthless and morally challenged collector and how his son tried to avoid being his father but did not entirely succeed. We also follow numerous stories, both set in the present and past, which examine the nature of evil and the moral flaws we all have. It is a superbly written book, unfinished according to the author.

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