I meant to post this yesterday, but hey! I was given a copy of this 126 page novella for Christmas and I’m so grateful for the gift because what a joy it has been to read. I’ve proved to myself that you can get lost in a story when it is not a full length novel – something that used to worry me. Wherein lies the escapism, I asked myself, if there are fewer than 350 pages to delve into? The answer is a great deal if you choose the right books – or in this case have it chosen for you. Thank you to G for this amazing recommendation.
Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal. Peirene Press (2010)
This is my second post for the #readindies challenge hosted by Lizzy and Kaggsy which runs throughout February. I know its the 1st March today, sorry. Officially the start of reading Wales month. So many challenges, so little time! But enough with the apologies already.
Stone in a Landslide is a book about a young girl named Conxa from a remote Catalan village who is sent away – aged 13 – from her somewhat impoverished and over populated mountain home to live with an aunt and uncle, in order to free up space for her brothers and sisters. “One less mouth to feed every day” as the saying goes.
This is not a start in life guaranteed to inspire great self esteem. Conxa lives none of the ‘gimme’ culture known to a modern city dweller. She exemplifies instead a dignified, uncomplaining nature, a way of being tied to the land, unchanged for centuries. Even the second world war was distant for these isolated communities who lit unimaginably early wood fires in stone farmhouses; who followed behind ancient mules; who worked 12 hours a day seven days a week tending their animals and their quiet earth. Conxa never knew a motor car, a tractor, a telephone or electricity.
Until the Spanish Civil War reached out its bloodstained fingers.
“War is an evil that drags itself over the earth and leaves it sown with vipers and fire…”
Barbal’s writing is extraordinary. An entire life passes before our eyes in 100 or so pages. Children are born, they grow, they marry, have children of their own and everything happens in its due time and order. Nothing feels rushed or unlikely.
As today is the 1st March its appropriate to say that I have only read one other book – also a translation – which, for me, equals this perfect threnody to the passing of a traditional language and way of life. That is Angharad Price’s The Life of Rebecca Jones, originally published in Welsh.
I can only bow down in reverent awe at such writing and recommend both these profound books to anyone who likes to read about the steadfastness of human nature and the passage of time, in the most gorgeous and economic prose that ever graced a page.