Stone in a Landslide, by Maria Barbal.
I was thirteen when, with a bundle of clothes in my arms, my father on my left and Maria on my right, I left my family, home, village and mountain. It was just a few kilometers between Ermita and Pallares, but it meant a day's walk and losing sight of home. At the time, this hurt me more than anything else. As I walked away, I left the only world I had ever known behind. - from Stone in a Landslide, page 10 -
I feel like a stone after a landslide. If someone or something stirs it, I'll come tumbling down with the others. If nothing comes near, I'll be here, still, for days and days ... - from Stone in a Landslide, page 89 -
Maria Barbal's classic literary novella takes place in Spain at the beginning of the 20th century. It begins with thirteen year old Conxa leaving her family and village to go live with her childless aunt and uncle. Conxa is at first fearful and sad about being displaced from her family, but she grows to love her aunt and does not mind the hard work of living on a farm. The years slip by and eventually Conxa meets the charming Jaume, marries him and begins a family of her own. But the Spanish Civil War blights their lives and in the end, it is only Conxa's steadfast will and unflinching spirit which keeps her moving forward.
Conxa's voice is compelling and resolute as she relates the significant events of her life in a small village. It is the simpleness of her story which drives the narrative. With stark, yet poetic language, Maria Barbal captures the life of a young girl growing into adulthood and finally entering the waning years of her life. It is a quiet story, but one which captures the patient reader. When Conxa must face the loss of Jaume, her pain is described like the unraveling of a skein of wool:
No need to open your mouth, just find a bit of the pain and pull at it gently like wool from a skein, let it unravel, unravel ... until you can't see colours any more because your eyes have flooded but it's not tears that fall from your eyes. The wool you were unraveling has turned into a sheet of water slipping down your cheek, and just as you were going to let out a sob, you realize you are not alone. A knot forms in your throat, causing such a strong pain but you swallow and swallow, until slowly you untangle the knot and you're left with the skein. A fragment of sorrow, knot and all, has gone down directly to your stomach. - from Stone in a Landslide, page 101 -
It was moments like this which drew me to the story and made me feel as though I knew Conxa. Beautifully crafted, this book manages to say more in 126 pages than most longer novels are able to do. A story about coming of age, love, loss, and the connectivity of family, Stone in a Landslide is an amazing work of fiction.
Highly recommended to those readers who enjoy literary fiction.
Four and a half stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".