Stone in
A Landslide

Maria Barbal
Laura McGloughlin
Paul Mitchell,

(Peirene Press)
Conxa grows up in the Catalan countryside, before the Civil War. Her family is poor, so poor that when she is thirteen, she is given away to her mother's sister Tia. Tia is married to a relatively prosperous land-owner near Ermita. Ultimately, Conxa falls in love with Jaume, and he moves in to live with her new family.

Much of the pleasure of A Stone in a Landslide is the art of Barbal telling the story, bringing it to life, and yet leaving out any unnecessary details. This is the sole comment on Conxa not being able to visit her family: "The roads were long and everyone was needed at home." And this is how Jaume proposed:

    He said if I wasn't against the idea I should tell my family that he wanted to marry me and that he would return on Sunday evening to find out the answer.

And when they took Jaume away to shoot him --- he was a Republican; Franco's Falange had overrun Catalonia --- "before he'd even combed his hair, a hug. A goodbye. I didn't cry, but inside I felt as if they had wrenched my soul from my body."

§     §     §

There is an art to simple story-telling, what to include, what to omit. The problem with the poor --- the very poor like Conxa --- is that there are so few to tell their story. The poverty-stricken haven't the experience nor the time to tell their story, what with milking the cows, bringing in the crops, butchering the pigs, raising a family, taking care of the old, trying to keep the kids from dying of hunger.

So we turn to other chroniclers of the very poor, those such as Victor Hugo, Henry Roth, William Faulkner, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Alberto Moravia, James Agee... and, the one writer from the early 20th Century most like Maria Barbal, Maria Messina. (More recently, we find novelists like Frank McCourt, a Jesuit priest --- Gary Smith --- and the sociologists Oscar Lewis and Ananya Roy.)

§     §     §

There is little given here to tell us of Barbal's background and experience. Whatever it is, Stone in a Landslide is high art. Conxa is aging; her husband is dead, her children leaving. Her son takes her to live in Barcelona --- she who has scarcely ever left the rural Catalan countryside. "Barcelona," Maria says, "is everything at a set time. Before then, it's too early. After that, it's already too late."

    Barcelona is having the sky far away and the stars trembling.

And, in one of the few passages of self-reflection, she sees herself as a "slow old woman who didn't make a sound, carried her weight but who thought of herself as a bit of a halfwit."

    And who all of a sudden realized that at last death was on its way because she was over fifty and she didn't want anything now or in the future.
--- Lolita Lark
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