“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…” (89)
Maria Barbal’s Stone in a Landslide (first published in Catalan in 1985, and now available in English for the first time, thanks to Peirene Press) is the life story of Conxa, who is sent away as a child, in the early years of the twentieth century, to live with and work for her aunt and uncle. The years pass, she falls in love with a young man named Jaume, they marry and have children – and then their lives are disrupted by the Spanish Civil War. But, of course, life continues beyond even this.
Like Laura McGloughlin’s and Paul Mitchell’s translation (which has the kind of precise simplicity that deflects attention away from it), Conxa’s life both is and isn’t as ordinary as it appears, in the sense that all lives can be – and are, in their own way – extraordinary at times, just as a simple stone can be part of an extraordinary landslide. Conxa’s life is one lived largely for, and in relation to, other people: right at the start, she is sent away from home because there isn’t enough room for her in the house; when she falls in love with Jaume, she becomes a different person and defines herself by him (“Now I could only be Jaume’s Conxa” ); growing old comes almost as a surprise to Conxa, because she has been so used to seeing her children grow, and suddenly they’re adults.
What I find most striking about Stone in a Landslide is the way that key historical events are experienced (or not, as the case may be) through the domesticity of Conxa’s existence; Jaume is political, but Conxa has no knowledge or interest, and it’s a rude awakening for her when history finally intrudes on her life.
Stone in a Landslide is a quiet study of a life, a life whose treasures vanish all too soon, before the woman living it fully grasped what they were. But the book remains, and its treasures are plain to see.
Some other reviews of Stone in a Landslide: Winstonsdad; Novel Insights; A Common Reader.
28th July 2010 at 10:19 pm
Great review. I love that quote from which the title is taken. I found the title is so descriptive of the whole book!
28th July 2010 at 10:32 pm
Thanks, Amy! It’s a great simile, isn’t it — the idea that someone might be part of major change, or of nothing at all, depending on pure chance. Very true, I think.
17th May 2020 at 3:48 pm
Fantastic review. Even a stone on the gravel path you tread on has a purpose for it being there. From this perspective every life has a larger meaning than what we care to perceive & understand.