Stone in a Landslide – Maria Barbal
Peirene Press, 2010
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Have you ever felt so excited about reading a book that you felt hesitant to finally pick it up? Stone in a Landslide was like that for me. I had to take a deep breath and resolve that I should start reading and stop worrying that it would be finished soon. I could always reread it. And it is certainly a story that deserves to be reread. At little over a hundred pages I finished it all too quickly, and yet I don’t feel that the story needs any more detail to have an impact.
Stone in a Landslide was first published in 1985 and went through many editions (this is actually the 50th edition of the book). However, this edition by Peirene Press is the first time the story has been translated to English.
The book can best be described as the reflections of an elderly woman, Conxa, looking back at her life. She refers to her childhood growing up in a rural village in Catalonia and moving in with her aunt and uncle to help them out on their farm. The reader reads about her falling in love and marrying Jaume. Theirs is a love match in an environment in which marriage was more about convenience and status than anything else. Their life seems healthy and happy, if complicated by financial affairs, until the Spanish Civil war divides the country and affects her family as well. As the blurb states: “As the book ends, Conxa looks back on a life in which she has lost everything except her own indomitable spirit.”
The one thing that makes this book stand out so much is Conxa’s voice. It remains gentle and detached even through the more dramatic passages in her life story. I had never expected it, but this makes that the story becomes all the more real. There’s no need for dramatics or passages that has the characters crying for hours on end, rather it is the semi-detached language that enables the reader to identify with Conxa and admire her for her strength throughout her life. Conxa became very real to me, and I still have a hard time realising that this book is not a memoir written by Conxa herself, but that she is a fictional character made up by Maria Barbal.
Another thing I loved about the book are the descriptions of the little things in life. The story has a remarkable attention for detail that leads to much broader observations. For example, when Conxa describes that family of her aunt and uncle remark on Conxa’s getting lovelier every time they visit:
“In Pallarès no one says “young lady” nor “lovely”. I understood these words even if I didn’t use them and they pleased me, and I thought that a language is like a tool that each person picks up in their own way, even if it is used for the same purpose.”
There are many gems like this hidden in this short but noteworthy story. I can’t wait to revisit it and rediscover them. Highly recommended.
I received this book from Meike at Peirene Press for review.
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