La plaça del Diamant (1962)

Nou Diccionari 62 de la literatura catalana (Edicions 62); published in English as 'The Time of the Doves', 1986, Graywolf Press (translated by David Rosenthal)

This is Mercè Rodoreda’s most universal work. It has been translated into many languages and is considered to be one of the most important novels of the post-war period. It has been compared with the works of Proust and Joyce because of its willingness to explore inner life, its respect for memory and the outstanding presence of time, which is one of the central themes of the work (and, indeed, of all Rodoreda’s novels). La plaça del Diamant is a long, first-person description of the life of the main character, Natàlia-Colometa, in her own haunting voice.

There is no formal division anywhere in the text, the aim being to highlight the fact that this is an uninterrupted account which, moreover, is left open when it ends in the same setting as that in which it began. Nevertheless, changes in register and shifts in style reflect different stages in Natàlia-Colometa’s life. The book begins by describing the everyday life of a girl from a working-class family of the Barcelona neighbourhood of Gràcia (marriage and motherhood), which is dramatically convulsed by historical events (the Spanish Republic and the Civil War). From subtle irony and an often naïve standpoint used to describe the small active community (with penetrating characterisation of a way of experiencing and thinking, and of the objects that come together within it) the story shifts to the political commitment that brings with it first anguish and then pain, with the deaths of her husband and their friends in the war. Subsequently, in the post-war years, the reader is taken into an imaginative, personal existence, full of dream-like elements (highlighted with symbols and a notable presence of Freud whose work had influenced Rodoreda) which are also solitary and apathetic with ill-defined bounds, like the Barcelona which was also being shaped in those years.

This is a broad overview of the storyline: the unfolding of a life, one that is closely linked with that of a group and with history. It is an evolution that accentuates the book’s leitmotif, the pigeons (the novel was first called Colometa, literally “little dove” and Coloma is a woman’s name). In the process of its mimetic unfolding through the main character, tracing in particular her emotions and with a highly polished style, the novel becomes poetic and deeply moving. It also bears trenchant witness to a crucial time.

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