Josep Vallverdú

Josep Maria Aloy

Josep Vallverdú was born in Lleida on 9 July 1923. At the age of twelve he wrote a poem and, at thirteen, a "Pastorets" nativity play, which he illustrated himself. He has been a man of many residences. "I've never settled anywhere", he says, but wherever he's been he's left his mark.

A long time ago he lived in Puiggròs, in the Les Garrigues region, far from the urban hubbub and frequently enveloped in an "insidious, cottony, mist, a stupid, greyish and useless engulfer of colours". If you want to see him happy, give him a rustic setting, with repose and stability and a vegetable garden to cultivate in person. If you want him even happier, let him write, especially novels for young people. Josep Borell defines him as "a writer grafted to the Horacian line: a blend of man of letters and farmer". He is not suggesting any rural extremism. Just serene, heartfelt identification between man and land.

An individualist serving the collective. Solitary but not remotely lacking in solidarity. Emotional and sensitive. His career – impeccable – has been constructed a long way from ballyhoo and fireworks, subject only to his testimony of rigorous fidelity to his country.

He has always been crazy about publishing. In La Galera alone, in the "Els Grumets" collection, he has twenty-two titles which add up to over a hundred editions. His book Rovelló [Mushroom] has gone into twenty editions and has been translated into Italian, French, Basque, Spanish and even Russian, apart from being the children's book that has won the most prizes in the past thirty-five years. The series of cartoons on this mischievous dog has had considerable success and television rights have been acquired by other television networks outside the country. "One cannot doubt", writes the critic Francesc Boada, "the social significance of his work if one bears in mind how small our market is".

He has been awarded a host of prizes and has also been a candidate for the Hans Christian Anderson Prize, which is akin to the Nobel Prize for young people's literature. He has been a writer "able to create his own line and to stay true to it, shunning the throes of fashion", as the writer Teresa Duran notes. A good part of his work is a lucid reflection on men and women, their conduct and weaknesses, and there is an inescapable aspiration: that something should vibrate in the young reader after finishing one of his novels.

Pedrolo described him as a "fable-spinner" and Francesc Danés as an "unabashed graphomaniac". Others have said that he is a "cultural agitator", a "man steeped in culture" or an "educator in civic values". His generous presence has been the stimulus for a great number of cultural events of all kinds and, in many cases, in the words of Antoni Bergós, "it has been a blast from the bellows that was needed to get the coals flaming again". He is probably the most widely-read author among the young people of Catalonia, possessor of a solid career despite the fact that, in his prudent, modest way, he declares that, "In the end, one gets where one gets mostly because of pure and simple chance".

He has been one of the great opinion makers and leading theorist of contemporary thought in the west Catalonia region. Ironic, irreducible, an intelligent, elegant, demanding conversationalist... His articles in the press are always lucid. He is entranced by the stoicism of dogs and their fidelity. Yet he could not live without having a cat close by.

Although some have described him as a "writer for all seasons" because of the diversity of his work, it must still be stressed that he is one of the most prolific and prestigious writers for young people in the country. For many he is the doyen of this frequently undervalued literature. His corpus for this readership consists of over sixty titles written in elaborate, suggestive, rich prose. He specialises in adventure stories and, in particular, the action novel, although one observes in his writing a desire for variety that has led him to take on all kinds themes and all narrative forms. Vallverdú, like a good taster-of-all-flavours, has created a wide-ranging, diverse and enviable literary world. The main characteristics of his work, widely recognised and winner of many prizes, are his tradecraft, coherence and fidelity. It is a solid oeuvre built on values that, without overlooking the playful side of things that is appropriate in literature for young people, also presents the challenge of constant reflection and the personal enrichment of the reader.

At eighty-four, Vallverdú with his enviable good health and lucidity is always working: with words – publishing three more books this year – and in his vegetable garden alongside Isabel, his wife, and Eloi, his son. He is constantly musing over new projects and receiving a steady stream of different forms of recognition, particularly outstanding amongst which are the Prize of Honour of Catalan Letters in 2000, the Literary Career Prize of the Publishers' Guild in 2002, not to mention a Doctoris Honoris Causa from the University of Lleida in 2004.

Since Vallverdú published his first adventure novel El venedor de peixos [The Fishmonger] in 1960, literature for children and young people in this country has become progressively richer, growing in prestige and dignity, virtues that are not always associated with this kind of literature, which is frequently seen as a minor branch. Vallverdú has made a clear commitment to it, free of complexes and, indeed, in the conviction that one needs to approach younger readers with honesty and coherence. Thousands of readers are grateful for that and continue to be grateful, day after day, assiduously reading his novels, some of which – Un cavall contra RomaL'home dels gats [The Cat Man], En Mir l'esquirol [Mir the Squirrel], Saberut i Cua-verd [Know-all and Green-tail], Bernat i els bandolers [Bernat and the Bandits], to cite just a few – are constantly going into new editions, which has led the publisher Edicions La Galera to bring them all together and offer a complete works, a laudable project that has the bold and generous support of the Institut d'Estudis Ilerdencs (Institute for Lleida Studies).

As Isidor Cònsul does very well to remind us, "the fiction for young people by Josep Vallverdú is one of the – doubtless, most luxuriant – branches of the literary tree that has grown gratefully and laden with fruit". To the six thousand pages of his literature for young people – which is what the set of his novels, along with about a hundred stories and short plays, amounts to – one must also add his work that is not directly addressed to a young readership: essays, travel books, books written for educational purposes and with a view to popularising certain subjects, books on Lleida and its regions, many hundreds of articles, translations (seventy books), adaptations, prologues, poems, opening addresses at different events, scripts, plays, lectures... not to overlook the odd surprise piece such as Los goigs a llaor del gloriós Sant Clandestí [Couplets in Praise of Glorious Saint Clandestine].

Some of his books, the so-called personal ones – Proses de Ponent [Prose from the West Land] (1970), Indíbil i la boira [Indíbil and the Mist] (1983), Vagó de tercera [Third-class Carriage] (1996), Garbinada i Ponent [Southwest and West Wind] (Proa, 1998), Desmudat i a les golfes [Good Clothes off and up in the Attic] (2000) and Hora nona [Bedtime] (2005) – are books that are somewhere between diaries, autobiography, and the social and personal chronicle of the years of his youth. This alternating between books for children and these personal books where Vallverdú is speaking of himself in particular makes it possible for the reader to at once discern and confront the role of writer and the role of man, the Vallverdú who makes his fictional characters speak and the Vallverdú who speaks himself and speaks especially of himself. Nowadays, one Vallverdú would be impossible without the other. An intense relationship has been established between the two, strengthening and acquiring surer balance over time. Today, Vallverdú has as much need to tell stories as to tell his own story. This is an unsettling debate for his readers who have taken the leap from his fictional books to his personal books, discovering all the while the man who was hiding – and who continues to hide, but not so much any more – behind these fictions, and who lets himself be insinuated and slowly contemplated in a sort of game of sincere complicity. Many readers agree that Hora nona, which was published at the end of 2005, is definitively the book where Vallverdú has revealed his intimacy as never before and thus his fears and most personal worries as well.

It would not be wholly just to speak of a Vallverdú-the-writer-of-novels-for-children-and-young-people. "Vallverdú", as professor Xavier Macià says, "is not an author of works but author of a work; a compact writer in his totality, with little susceptibility to fragmenting trends or partial approximations". His is an oeuvre that becomes a whole mosaic, as Eva Esteve also writes in her Prologue to Pelegrí dels mots [Pilgrim of Words] (2007) because only as a complete mosaic does it enable us to understand and approach the fleshing out of a compact, coherent figure.

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