Book review – Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal

Stone In A Landslide book coverAlmost an entire lifetime is captured between the creamy covers of this slim, thoughtful book. Beginning with 13-year-old Conxa leaving her family to live with her uncle and aunt in Pallares, she leads us through the important moments in her life, from becoming accepted in the village she now lives in, to falling in love, to suffering the worst affects of the Spanish Civil War.

I’ve never read a book by a Catalonian before, and while most of the world regard Catalonia as part of Spain, it’s interesting to realise that from their own point of view, then and now, Catalonia is its own country, with its own language, customs and beliefs.

Conxa’s life is, in many ways, small and self-contained, just as she is. She rarely travels beyond the borders of her own village and her busy life tending the fields and animals of her uncle and aunt’s farm consumer most of her thoughts. Her confidence is low, as she describes herself as “A slow old woman who didn’t make a sound, carried her weight but thought of herself as a bit of a halfwit.”

And yet she shines through the pages with moments of understanding – she sees the world she lives in with a vivid clarity that reveals her sensitivity and intelligence. It’s a quality her husband Jaume immediately recognises in her.

Their burgeoning love provides some of the loveliest passages in the book, as his kindness and adoration lead Conxa to explain: “It was as if he’d been born to take away my fears, to bring light where I saw darkness and to flatten what felt like a mountain to me.”

This book was first published in its original Catalan in1985, and the deft, confident translation by Laura McGoughlin and Paul Mitchell has opened it up to English-language readers for the first time, presenting it like a beautifully packaged gift to unwrap layer by layer.

This is a quiet book full of hardship and sorrow, but rich in love. Conxa is as capable of deep emotions as she is of deep contemplation, and her feelings for her aunt, her husband, her friends and her children glow throughout, providing a generosity to her musing that makes it a pleasure to read to the very last word.

Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal is published by Peirene Press and is available from Amazon.