Now 70 years ago, when Franco’s troops invaded Catalonia, many people decided to go into exile. Among them was Mercè Rodoreda who later wrote La plaça del Diamant (published in English as “The Time of the Doves”) – generally considered one of the best books about the changing fortunes of a human being before, during and after the Spanish Civil War.
La plaça del Diamant takes place in Barcelona, where young Natàlia lets other people steer her life. At a dance she meets Quimet and already before she has fallen in love with him, has he persuaded her to break up with her fiancé and to marry him instead. Natàlia accepts that Quimet decides to call her Colometa, instead of using her real name, and that he turns their apartment into a pigeon shed, although she is not at all found of the birds and although he never seems to be able to make any money from selling what they breed.
The story is told in the form a long monologue, with the advantage that we can always follow Natàlia’s reactions to what happens and is being said around her. However, at least for non-native speakers, Rodoreda’s long sentences - often broken up with several sub-clauses and inserted quotations – can be quite a challenge. In the passage below Natàlia’s mother-in-law comes to look at the doves, which her son and grand son have been talking so much about:
“La mare d’en Quimet, que la veia molt poc perquè s’anava fent vella de pressa i venir a veure’ns era un viatge massa llarg i jo no tenia temps d’anar-la a veure els diumenges, un dia es va presentar perquè va dir que volia veure els coloms, que en Quimet i els nens quan l’anaven a veure, no pas massa sovint va dir queixant-se, només li parlaven dels coloms i que aviat es farien rics i el nen li deia que els coloms el seguien i que ell i la Rita els parlaven com si fossin els seus germanets.”
I must admit that I did not feel comfortable with this style at the beginning of the book and only when the plot captured me did I finally start to appreciate it. At least for non-Spanish students of Catalan do I recommend that you wait with this book until you have passed the Generalitat’s B-level exam. This is far from easy reading.
Having said that, this is a touching story taking place in a war which still haunts Spanish society, so anyone interested in Catalonia or Spain should pick up one of the many translations available. Rarely have I come so close to understanding when a parent can in fact kill his or her own children as when I read the chapters where Natàlia - on the brink of starvation - contemplates doing so. And, so typical for her, it is not her own actions or decisions, but a mere coincidence which stops her from proceeding with her plans.