Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal

23 May, 2010

I am the first to admit I haven’t read much Spanish fiction or books set in Spain except for Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind and George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and have seen only a handful of films such as Pan’s Labyrinth (which really wasn’t a children’s film). But I did study the Spanish Civil War at length at school and most of the books I like to read are set during the interwar years and reference the Spanish Civil War and the International Brigade, so it’s a slice of history in which I am particularly interested.

I was in the middle of reading a number of books which I wanted to finish, but when this little beauty arrived, I flipped open a few pages and I kept on reading. Stone in a Landslide is a slim book about the life of Concepció or Conxa, a young girl from the deep Catalan countryside. Told in her own words, we see Conxa as she grows up away from home, marries and has children and grows old while her country goes through a tumultous period in history which will affect her and the people she loves. It’s a simple story told in a simple way, yet it touches something profound because it is about history and how no matter how remote your life may seem, you can never really escape from it. There are no histrionics, Conxa is very matter of fact, but in Barbel’s prose you can sense her bewilderment as she has to deal with all that life throws at her. She comes from a simple background that is so poor that life is all about working the land punctuated with shots of happiness; her husband Jaume, her children, their marriages and finally old age. As her life moves from the country to the city, we see her slowly lose her sense of self.

This is a bittersweet tale, showing life as it is from the point of view of an uneducated and simple woman who has grown up adapting to her life. But it is not a tragic tale. Conxa laments the changes that sweep her life, but as much as the story is about the generational differences that are more apparent in the 20th century, it is also the tale of a country emerging into modernity through war. And throughout these changes, Conxa remains upright and resilient.

Stone in a Landslide is beautiful, simple and stark. Yet it is filled with warmth, the smell of grass on the mountains and the sunshine of a late afternoon. This is a book to read slowly, savouring the language and letting Conxa’s experience wash through you.

I would like to thank Meike from Peirene Press who kindly sent me a copy to read.

*Stone in Landslide will be published on 10th June 2010 but you can pre-order a copy on Amazon.

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5 Responses to “Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal”

  1. Simon T Says:

    I’m looking forward to this one, which is on my desk… maybe I should start it now, as it’s too hot for me to sleep, and this book might be appropriate!

  2. Iris Says:

    This review got me so excited to read the book!

    When you mentioned it in another post, I kind of knew that I’d like to read it, but your review has now really convinced me. I haven’t read many (if any?) Spanish books (I still need to read Shadow of the Wind), but this sounds like jewel. I can just imagine myself spending a day relaxing on the couch with it (or outside, with this sunny weather).

  3. chasing bawa Says:

    Simon T: I found this book so easy to read. You just forget the time. Looking forward to your review.

    Iris: Nice! It’s a great book to relax with.

  4. Aarti Says:

    Ooh, great review! It really makes me want to read this book, and learn more about Catalan culture. I like that it’s not tragic or “woe is me,” too.


  5. I have also read Shadow of the Wind that you mentioned but besides that, not much to speak of.


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