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.

I thought I was pretty good with not buying books this month, but hey, who am I trying to kid?

I was lucky enough to get sent the following:

Stone in a Landslide by Maria Barbal – the lovely Meike from Peirene Press sent this for me to try. I’ve never read any Catalan fiction and Stone in Landslide has been in print for 50 years, but this is the first time it’s been translated into English.

A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters – the newest addition to Peters’ Amelia Peabody series. I fell in love with the series set in the early 20th century that combine mystery, history and Egyptology with some incredibly wonderful and funny characters when I picked up the first volume Crocodile on the Sandbank at Chicago’s famous Seminary Co-op Bookstore (astrophysicist and my hero Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar’s favourite bookshop) years ago. She’s one of my favourite writers and I always return to her when I’m in need of some bookish comfort. And Amelia’s son Ramses is to die for.

And I picked these up at my local charity shop for a pound each:

Modern Tongue: The English Language by Bill Bryson – I really enjoyed Notes from a Small Island which was hilarious but have never read anything else by Bryson (except for snippets of A Short History of Nearly Everything which I dip into occasionally.)

Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading by Maureen Corrigan – How could I not pick this up? The title alone hooked me.

Solo by Rana Dasgupta – Dasgupta was present at the GLF 2010 earlier this year, but I hadn’t read any of his books although Tokyo Cancelled has been on my radar. Solo won the Commonwealth Writers Prize this year.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King – I’ve heard so many good things about King’s The Dark Tower sequence of which this is the first book. I found this book just after reading a great review about the series. It’s funny how these things happen.