Saturday, May 22, 2010

Stone in a Landslide

In the Scottish ones garden it’s a lovely evening, the sky is blue, the sun gold on the tree tops, the Hawthorne is in flower – in fact the whole place is awash with blossom and sweet smells, and in the fridge is a bottle of my favourite Gin. It would be perfect if I was actually there and not back in town contemplating a gigantic set of notes that need to be written up for work in a very stuffy flat with no gin. It’s proving hard to motivate myself regarding the finer points of sales statistics so here I am blogging instead (pretending it’s a well earned break).

‘Stone in a Landslide’ came to me from Peirene Press, and is it seems the modern Catalan classic. Now as regular readers will know I’m not much of a reader of contemporary fiction and this is not normally a book that I would have given a second look but Peirene press is new and its founder Meike Ziervogel sent me an email asking if I would like a copy. Initially I wasn’t very interested; I’m as lax as most when it comes to reading literature from other countries, and everything about this book sounded a little out of my normal field of interest. On the other hand how often does someone give you the opportunity to broaden your horizons, and for free at that? Exactly; not so very often, and the promise that it was a short book swung me totally (much less intimidating when you’re not sure how much you’re going to enjoy something.)

Ziervogel’s enthusiasm for what she’s doing is palpable and infectious, and with only 120 tempting pages to deal with I got straight to it. ‘Stone in a Landslide’ tells the life of Conxa, a peasant girl from the mountains born around the beginning of the century. Her life is work and the rhythms of the country she lives in, love and motherhood bring happiness, but also more work; women are (as in most farming communities) the ones who keep the home going and do many of the tough jobs around the farm. The needs and demands of motherhood come second to the harvest – her daughters have to do without milk if the calves need it more and so like her mother before her Conxa comes to understand little but work. Her husband is a different character – he thinks and dreams - dangerous dreams of equality - so the rise of fascism brings tragedy to the family. All the while the passing of the century is bringing change of its own, so the life Conxa knows won’t be the life her children settle for.

My grandmother was German, she too came from a mountain village. I didn’t know her terribly well – we never really saw much eye to eye, she rather disapproved of education for girls, or careers for girls outside of marriage, though hard work was right up her street. From what I know of her life I can begin to understand why she was so difficult to know, and why she was so unwilling to share much of her history. Reading ‘Stone in a Landslide’ bought her very much to mind – I think she would have recognised Conxa; a woman who knows how to be strong, but not how to fight, and someone who’s bewilderment in being caught up in political events which mean nothing to her is palpable.

For a short book it packs quite a punch emotionally, and celebrates an image of womanhood that isn’t I think so very fashionable these days. I look forward to seeing what else Peirene Press bring out, I have a feeling it’s going to interesting.


  1. This sounds hugely intriguing as does the Press - I'll be interested to see what else they come out with

  2. I've got a copy of this as well and am planning on reading it fairly soon. Translations aren't my thing either but your review has encouraged me. How interesting that it reminded you of your grandmother - I think so many people of the older generation can't understand modern life and attitudes. Whenever I visit my grandparents and tell them what country I'm off to next or what I'm doing at work they can't believe that I'd want to go to another country or do adventurous things. And this from people who lived through a war. I don't get it!

  3. I'm feeling a bit guilty because it's not due out for another 2 weeks so I jumped the gun a bit. I really liked the book, and like the sound of what Peirene are doing - especially because they seem to be going for shorter books which I find far more tempting to try.

    It made me think of my grandmother because she would never talk about her past, but growing up in Germany through the 1930's followed by an affair with an english soldier and then coming over to the uk with a baby after the war to track him down (with very little english)- she must have had a lot she could have told if she was prepared to.

  4. I've just started this too... their previous title, Beside the Sea, also packed an incredible punch.

  5. This sounds like a really interesting book - thanks for bringing it to my attention.