Life Embitters

Josep Pla, trans. from the Catalan by Peter Roland Bush. Archipelago (Random, dist.), $18 trade paper (600p) ISBN 978-0-914671-13-8
This is the second volume of Pla's vast oeuvre of fiction, travel writing, and essays to be translated into English. Pla (1897–1981), to this day a controversial figure in his native Catalonia, was exiled from Spain in the 1920s. Wandering through Europe, he wrote down what he observed of the human condition, "where wretchedness and beauty entangle," influenced by his admiration for Dutch still-life painting. Pla's stories do indeed go nowhere, even though they're set in Barcelona, Paris, Ostend, London, Florence, and Rome. Place does not loom large in these tales, serving more as a backdrop for the interior journeys of lodgers in boarding houses and passengers on trains. In one story, a man in Catalonia thinks he will die if he sneezes three times, as predicted by a friend; in another, three men in a boarding house vie for the hand of the landlady's daughter after she is ravished by a younger man. In "A Madrid Lodging House," a lodger becomes acquainted with a giant and a dwarf when their troupe arrives to consume vast quantities of the landlady's Valencian paella. In "What You Might Expect: Nothing," a man falls in love with a beautiful woman on a French train who claims her husband will betray her that very day. "Memories of Florence," an outlier, is almost entirely a treatise on the history of art. Often the narrator will muse on love, friendship, or political ideas being debated at the time, but the stories mostly dwell on their (inevitably male) main characters' embittered and pessimistic views of themselves in relation to the world around them. Proustian in their attention to quotidian detail, the stories resonate only faintly today, perhaps to be enjoyed as period pieces full of idiosyncratic customs and long-lost cultural references. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/04/2015
Release date: 05/01/2015
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 978-0-914671-14-5
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