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review 2017-07-05 11:00
A Suffocating Village: Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda
Death in Spring - Mercè Rodoreda,Martha Tennent

Less than a year ago I reviewed a novel by Catalan author Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983) who is much celebrated in her country but virtually unknown elsewhere. I was so impressed by the book that I felt like reading also others of her works and from the two novels published posthumously, both of them unfinished, I eventually picked the one available in English translation, namely Death in Spring or in the original Catalan La mort i la primavera, i.e. Death and Spring. At first the title seems a bit strange, if not contradictory because it links death with nature’s rebirth after winter, but given that the novel flows over with powerful as well as poetical symbols and metaphors of life and death it’s quite appropriate. It’s a complex and well-constructed story about society that reminds me a lot of the works of Franz Kafka although it’s different in style.

 

The nameless I-narrator and protagonist makes his first appearance as a fourteen-year-old boy who enters the river passing under his mountain village built generations earlier on the debris of a huge rock-slip. He inhales the beauty of nature surrounding him and realises that he is “being followed by a bee, as well as by the stench of manure and the honey scent of blooming wisteria” representing the village with its pink houses that is always on his mind. As it turns out people there have many rituals to keep misfortune at bay. On the other side of the river is the forest of the dead with a tree dedicated to every inhabitant living or already dead with a plaque and a ring. During funerals all children are locked away into the stifling wooden kitchen cupboards, a custom that clearly mirrors the cruel death ritual practiced by the villagers for generations that requires to force pink cement down the throats of the dying in order to keep their souls from escaping and turning into shadows creeping “among the shrubs, always threatening to attack the village”. At the same time, and less obviously, it reflects the oppressive atmosphere in the village where everybody has to follow strict rules and not even the children are allowed to breathe freely in the literal as well as in the figurative sense. For being a boy the narrator doesn’t understand why the man whom he watches from behind a shrub hollows out a tree and enters it to die. As it turns out the man is his father, but instead of showing himself and talking to him, the boy returns to the village and tells the blacksmith. Everybody rushes out to give the already half-dead father the necessary cement treatment. With his teenage stepmother whom everybody considers retarded and strange he roams the village and its surroundings by night taking fun in vandalising the forest of the dead and using the pink powder of the cave to find out where its waters flow – thus defying the old village rituals that don’t make sense to them. Before long their adolescent urges take over and they have a daughter, but the community doesn’t accept them neither as individuals nor as a family because they are just too different, too free, too alive…

 

Many reviewers argue that Death in Spring represents life during the Spanish Civil War and in the rigid regime of General Franco that followed and that forced the author into exile, but in my opinion this is too limited an interpretation. I think that the author more generally portrayed the workings of human society where conservative forces use to be the stronger ones except in times of deepest discontent and misery. Even in our modern western civilisation that holds individual freedom in such high esteem, those who aren’t like all others or behave in a different, maybe even revolutionary way are marginalised, excluded and eventually crushed, i.e. driven to suicide or madness like in the novel although more subtly than in a totalitarian regime. In a nutshell: this is another great work of literature that would deserve much more attention. Highly recommended!

 

Death in Spring - Mercè Rodoreda,Martha Tennent 

 

»»» read also my review of In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda.

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review 2016-05-05 11:00
A Woman’s Misery in a Male World: The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán
The House of Ulloa (Penguin Classics) - Emilia Pardo Bazán,Paul O'Prey
Los Pazos De Ulloa - Emilia Pardo Bazán

As I already remarked two years ago, when I wrote a biography of Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921) on my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany (»»» read her author’s portrait there), the important Spanish author unlike her male counterparts from English-speaking countries and France began to fall into oblivion rather soon after she gained considerable fame for her work. Several of her books have been translated into English. Two of them are her most famous novel The House of Ulloa from 1886, which has been reissued in English translation only in 2013, and its often overlooked sequel Mother Nature from 1887. As an example of Spanish Naturalist writing above all the first deserves a closer look.

 

The House of Ulloa is set towards the end of the reign of Spanish Queen Isabel II, more precisely just before the liberal revolution of 1868. Father Julián Alvarez enters into service with Don Pedro Moscoso who has a remote country estate in Galicia and is generally known as marquis of Ulloa although in reality the title belongs to a cousin living in Santiago. The young priest is supposed to take care of the marquis’ affairs sorting papers in the library that are in a complete mess, but to his great dismay he finds that his private life is in disorder too and the estate threatened by ruin. In fact, his employer turns out to be a man of loose morals who openly consorts with his mistress Sabel working in the kitchen and treats his illegitimate four-year-old no better than his hounds. Moreover, his daily life is filled with little more than hunting and drinking. When pious and naïve Father Julián asks Don Pedro to change his ways, he admits that he can’t because his steward Primitivo, the father of Sabel, would never allow it and has the power to turn all peasants of the region against him. Nonetheless, the priest hopes to lead his employer back on the path of virtue and suggests that he passes some time in Santiago to choose a wife from his Cousin Manuel’s daughters. Thus he marries Marcelina, called Nucha, and brings her to the house of Ulloa as his wife and new mistress of the estate, but the discreet young woman soon realises that she isn’t accepted and that her husband goes on with his life as if she weren’t there. She suffers and makes Father Julián her confidant. The priest, though, is powerless and can only watch what is going on. Meanwhile, Don Pedro gets involved into politics which at the time is inseparably linked with corruption and risks his estate…

 

In this naturalist masterpiece the nineteenth-century author Emilia Pardo Bazán skilfully interweaves the main story of predominantly male decadence and corruption in politics as well as society with a feminist critique of a patriarchal world that submits women of all classes to a sexual double standard, violence and abuse in the name of Catholic religion and often with the help of clerics. Although the novel touches very serious topics and has a not less serious plot, its tone is not only gloomy like the wintry landscape of Galicia but also full of wit and clever irony. Moreover, it’s a timeless work of literature that has lost none of its power and meaning in this modern world. In other words, The House of Ulloa is one of those almost forgotten classics that deserve being read more widely outside its country of origin Spain.

 

Nota bene:

The original Spanish versions of Emilia Pardo Bazán’s work have long entered into the public domain and many of them as well as some older translations are available for free via the Virtual Library Miguel de Cervantes, on Feedbooks, on Project Gutenberg, on Wikisource, and several other sites of the kind.

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photo 2016-03-09 08:11
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review 2016-03-05 11:00
The Fight for Decent Working Conditions: The Metal of the Dead by Concha Espina
The Metal of the Dead - Concha Espina,Anna-Marie Aldaz
El Metal de Los Muertos - Concha Espina

This one is a Spanish classical novel written by a woman who is almost forgotten today although she was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature several times and she was very close to actually being awarded it at least twice.

 

The Metal of the Dead is often referred to as a socialist novel, a genre that was a bit in fashion in the early twentieth century. So shortly after the Russian Revolution socialist ideology had not yet a bad reputation, but people still set their hopes in it everywhere in the world including the mining area of Rio Tinto in Andalusia that is the main scene of this novel that is considered her best. The plot deals with a general strike that was called there around 1917... and the joys and sorrows of the miners and their families.

 

For the full review please click here to go to my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany.

 

The Metal of the Dead - Concha Espina,Anna-Marie Aldaz 

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
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review 2014-10-25 18:23
Don Quixote - Roberto González Echevarría,John Rutherford,Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Il vaut mieux gagner de quoi vivre en plaisant au plus grand nombre que gagner la gloire en ne plaisant qu'à quelques-uns.

Je vis en mourant, je brûle dans la glace, je tremble dans le feu, j'espère sans espoir, je reste quand je pars.

Une large et profonde rivière divisait en deux un vaste domaine. Sur cette rivière, on avait jeté un pont; au bout du pont, il y avait une potence et une salle où siégeaient en permanence quatre juges chargés d'appliquer la loi édictée par le propriétaire de la rivière, du pont et du domaine. Cette loi était ainsi conçue: "Quiconque traverse ce pont doit d'abord déclarer sous serment où il va, et pour quelle raison. S'il dit vrai, qu'on le laisse passer. S'il ment, qu'il soit pendu à cette potence, sans rémission." Bien qu'informés de cette loi rigoureuse, les gens n'en traversaient pas moins le pont; aussitôt qu'on reconnaissait qu'ils avaient dit vrai, on les laissait passer librement. Or, il s'est présenté le cas suivant: un homme, à qui on demandait de prêter serment, a juré qu'il traversait le pont pour aller se faire pendre à la potence qu'il y avait à l'autre bout, et pour rien d'autre. Les juges ont délibéré: "Si nous laissons cet homme passer librement, il aura menti sous serment, et la loi veut qu'il meure. Et si nous le pendons alors qu'il a juré qu'il passait le pont pour mourir sur la potence, puisqu'il aura dit la vérité la loi veut qu'il passe librement." [...]
Enfin Sancho se prononça:
- Il me paraît que tout ça peut se résumer en quelques mots: cet homme jure qu'il va mourir sur la potence et, s'il meurt pendu, il aura dit la vérité; donc, d'après la loi, il mérite d'être libre et de traverser le pont. Mais s'il n'est pas pendu, il aura menti, et, d'après cette même loi, il mérite qu'on le pende. [...]
- Eh bien, ce que j'en dis, c'est qu'on laisse passer la partie de cet homme qui a dit la vérité, et qu'on pende celle qui a menti.
- Mais, monsieur le gouverneur, il faudrait pour cela diviser cet homme en deux parties, la menteuse et la véridique. Et, si on le divise, il mourra forcément; et l'on n'aura pas observé le texte de la loi, à laquelle on doit expressément obéir.
- Écoutez, mon bon monsieur, ou je suis un imbécile, ou il y a autant de raisons de faire mourir cet homme-là que de le laisser vivre; parce que si la vérité le sauve, le mensonge le condamne. Puisqu'il en est ainsi, vous devriez dire à ces messieurs qui vous envoient que les raisons de condamner et d'absoudre, mises dans la balance, pèsent le même poids, et qu'ils doivent donc le laisser passer librement, car il vaut toujours mieux faire le bien que le mal.

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