Stone in a Landslide Paperback
by Maria Barbal
Edited by Paul Mitchell
The beginning of the 20th century: 13-year-old Conxa has to leave her home village in the Pyrenees to work for her childless aunt.
After years of hard labour, she finds love with Jaume - a love that will be thwarted by the Spanish Civil War.
Approaching her own death, Conxa looks back on a life in which she has lost everything except her own indomitable spirit. ------- Why Peirene chose to publish this book: 'I fell in love with Conxa's narrative voice, its stoic calmness and the complete lack of anger and bitterness.
It's a timeless voice, down to earth and full of human contradictory nuances.
It's the expression of someone who searches for understanding in a changing world but senses that ultimately there may be no such thing.' Meike Ziervogel, Publisher
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 128 pages
- Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd
- Publication Date: 20/03/2010
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780956284013
- EPUB from £3.99
Showing 1 - 5 of 6 reviews.
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Review by teresa1953
This is a beautiful little book, kindly sent to me by the publisher. It's simplicity is what made it shine for me. The story begins in Catalonia just after the turn of the twentieth century and it spans several generations. The fact that so much detail is packed in to such a small book (126 pages in total) is a testament to the genius of the author. I very much enjoy the work of writers who can conjure up pictures in your mind without going to the "nth" degree. This is such a book. Told in snapshots, some of the memories of Conxa, the main character, are every day and ordinary, but they give a true picture of much larger events......in particular the background of the Spanish Civil War. Conxa's story involves her early childhood memories and being sent to live with her childless Aunt and Uncle to help in the home and on the land. Then comes courtship, marriage, children, the death of close relatives. In other words, the lives of mostly all of us. However, her precious husband is closely involved with the anti Royalists and pain and grief is inevitable. I particularly loved the final chapter, where Conxa has to leave her beloved home and the land that has sustained her. None of her children want the hardship of working that land or inheriting the farmhouse. Her son finds a little flat in Barcelona close to the doctors where "we won't have to worry about the land". So Conxa's life will end in the same way as many of us. She is waiting to die in the confines of a home in Barcelona and her final words still keep coming back to me....."Barcelona,for me, is something very beautiful. It is the last step before the cemetery." We are not just "stones in a landslide" but just as pebbles on the beach. So many of us, one hardly distinguishable from another, and we know not which way the tide will take us.
Review by gaskella
Maria Barbal is one of the most influential Catalan authors. This successful short novel was published in 1985, and has only now been translated into English. It is the story of one woman’s life and love.Conxa is a Catalan peasant. At the age of thirteen, she leaves her family to live with her aunt who has no children. She works hard and earns her place in their family yet still knows no life outside of the cluster of villages, and only sees her own family at the festivals. A few years later she meets Jaume, a builder rather than farmer, and they fall in love. They remain living with her aunt, for Jaume works mostly away, but soon start raising their own family. The years pass, lives continue then the Spanish Civil War intervenes leading to tragedy. Conxa survives it all into old age and is able to rejoice in her children’s own families.Despite being a mere 126 pages, this is a masterful portrait of a rural life in the Pyrenees. It’s subsistence living, each family struggling to get by with their few fields, but it’s a good life for those that are lucky enough to find a soul-mate like Conxa. This is a story of strong characters, dominated by Conxa and Jaume of course whose love story shines through the hardships. The passage of time just flows by without any unnecessary explanations, and all too soon I reached the last page. A hugely enjoyable read. (9/10) Book kindly supplied by the publisher – thank you.
Review by AndrewBlackman
One of the things I have always loved about a good book is the way it takes you into places and times you'd never otherwise have a chance to experience. This book conveys utterly convincingly the experience of growing up in a small mountain village in early 20th century Catalonia. I really felt as if I was there with Conxa and Jaume and their children and the aunt and uncle.This is a historical novel that spans several generations and takes in major historical events like the Spanish Civil War. Yet it is only 126 pages. And yet it doesn't feel rushed. In fact, most of the time is spent embroiled in the details of everyday life, describing the buzzing of flies looking for food, the walnut trees turning green, and exactly how the meadows looked as the characters went picking mushrooms. Births and deaths are skipped over, decades pass, wars and revolutions come and go, but more importantly it's time to take the animals to pasture and the poplar trees are waving in the wind.It's a slightly strange way to tell a story, but it made me realise that memories do really work this way. If I think back over my life, I don't form an orderly, logical chronology - I see pictures and scenes, some of important events but also some that just happened to lodge in my mind because I was particularly happy or sad at the time, or it was a particularly warm or cold day, etc. There are gaps of years where I can't remember much at all, and then a particular day I remember in great detail.That's pretty much the way this book is put together, and it works very well. It feels like what it is, the remembrances of an old woman looking back on her life, and the accumulation of details allowed me to feel part of the story much more than in many much longer books I've read. The passage of time is marked very clearly, and although the story covers a lifetime in 126 pages, the fast-forwarding never feels abrupt.Conxa's outlook is very limited. Her husband Jaume is interested in politics and wants to improve things, a chance he thinks he has got with the declaration of the Republic. But Conxa has no interest in these things, or in anything beyond the next village. Even Barcelona seems so far away that it has no meaning for her. She does care deeply about things close to her, though, the family and the house and the farm. It's the changes that take place in these things, as time moves on and the next generation have different ideas about the lives they want to live, that shock her much more than the wars and political upheavals she lives through.The title of the book provides a good insight into Conxa's character. Here's the context of it:"I feel like a stone after a landslide. If someone or something stirs it, I'll come tumbling down with the others. If nothing comes near, I'll be here still, for days and days..."This is uttered in a moment of extreme stress, when Conxa is in shock. But it also typifies the rest of her life, in which none of the major things that happen are under her control. She lives where she does because her parents sent her there as a child. She wants to marry Jaume, but when her aunt and uncle refuse, the limit of her rebellion is to cry and then be quiet and unhappy until they change their minds. Later on, when she and her children are arrested because of Jaume's political activities, it is her daughter who finds out information and tries to get them out, while Conxa sits there like the proverbial stone. It's a fascinating character depiction. It never feels like weakness: Conxa is, in her way, a very strong woman. But because of the way she was brought up, in that place and time, she just doesn't try to change her fate. Things happen, and she seems to accept them all, good or bad.I was left wanting more at the end, but in a good way. It wasn't that anything remained unresolved. The novel had reached a satisfying conclusion, but I still wanted to hear more of Conxa's voice, more about a fascinating life in a different world. The book is in its 50th edition in Catalan but this is the first English translation, and I would strongly recommend reading it.
Review by writestuff
Review by BlackSheepDances
Translated from the Catalan by Laura McGloughlin and Paul Mitchell“I feel like a stone after a landslide. If someone or something stirs it, I’ll come tumbling down with the others. If nothing comes near, I’ll be here still, for days and days…”Maria Barbal’s novella, Stone in a Landslide, is unique because it covers so much history in just a few pages. The fictional memoir begins in the Catalan region of Spain, when a young woman, just thirteen, is forced to leave her home because there are too many mouths to feed. The poverty in this time left many with few choices, and so her family sends her to live with a barren aunt and her husband. This quiet little girl, Conxa, leaves quietly, and without much fuss. A personality trait that becomes a description of her life, her quiet acceptance of what befalls her is what makes her story so intriguing.In first-person, she recounts her adjustment to a new home, where she has to learn to navigate around her controlling aunt and the new chores put upon her. She works extremely hard both in their home as well as in the maintenance of their fields and animals. But this is no Cinderella story, her relatives are not cruel. They come to love her as a daughter, and the skills she learns help her as she becomes a woman with a family of her own. The novel covers the milestones of marriage and motherhood and loss, all against the backdrop of the famine and the violence of the Spanish Civil War. Despite all she could say, she is actually quiet brief. It’s clear that being forced to leave her home as a child took something from her, possibly her sense of security or belonging. Because throughout the story, though she never directly states it, it’s clear that she felt like a burden, and that she should never speak up or contradict others. She raises her own children with loving attention but a sense of distance, always looking at them through the eyes of possibly losing them. “Perhaps deep down I was afraid of losing what I’d learnt to own.” Her insecurity combined with fear leave her mute in the face of problems, such as the menacing priest that threatens her family’s safety. It’s only when her worst fears are realized that she becomes more aware and invested in her own life. In the case of the Catalan villagers, their very lives were impacted by decisions and actions far away in Barcelona-so far that even their oppressors didn’t quite know who they were. It would be easy to say these were simple people, but that implies that they were ignorant. These people were intelligent and wise, but their commitment to the land for basic sustenance gave them little time to dwell on the political happenings far from them. When the rebellion came close to home, she realizes that the rural villagers throughout most of Spain were like her, simple people as insignificant as stones found on the Catalonian mountainsides.“There were those who wanted us not only to suffer but to feel guilty as well. Why do hundreds of stones always fall at once?” This is a quiet book, filled with thoughts to contemplate. The slow pace of the village life and the tremendous hard work is unimaginable. After I finished the book, I found myself returning to it for the simple prose and the way she can say so much in so few words.
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