Joined sketches, ostensibly fictional but with the ring of lived truth to them, by the noted Catalonian writer.
As translator Bush remarks in an afterword, Pla’s (1897-1981) chronicles of his seafaring compatriots were supposedly written during the author’s youth. Most, in fact, were from the 1940s, when, working as a journalist, Pla made a specialty of sneaking subtle criticisms of the Franco dictatorship into his copy. Sometimes his resistance is less than subtle. In one story, the narrator is conversing with “Dalí the painter’s father,” as he prefers to be called, and recounts, “In the Ampurdan, we federal republicans and those who didn’t think like us created a most pleasant level of coexistence, which had eliminated all forms of brutality….We’d rage at each other, but there was mutual respect. All that was destroyed thanks to theories about human progress and happiness.” Most of the stories are laden with references to the glories of Catalan cuisine, so much better, Pla asserts, than the butter-heavy French cuisine up the coast; in just about every story, someone is eating anchovies and sardines and sea bream, and it’s a book not to be read on an empty stomach. In just about every story, too, there is a reminder not just of food, but also of the antiquity of the Mediterranean; a Zorba-like character with the Greek-ish name of Hermós, for example, claims that the people along the cape he inhabits are indeed Hellenes, for “those Greeks were no fools. They chose to come and live in the best of places.” Blending both themes, the narrator later rejoins, “The spectacle of avid hunger becomes this antique sea. There are corners of this sea where you can smell the stench of Homeric hecatombs.” Pla’s stories are generally unadorned and precise in their renderings of both the people and the places of the far northeast of Spain, lives full of hardship and labor—but also their insistence on freedom.
A fine introduction to a writer little known outside his native land and who memorably captures its atmosphere.
Pub Date: today
Page Count: 310
Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020