If Mendoza’s An Englishman In Madrid gives us a foreign male’s view of run-up to the Spanish Civil War, Rodorera’s In Diamond Square gives us the female civilian equivalent. Neither protagonist is politically motivated but Anthony Whitelands, in Madrid, becomes involved with the right-wing Falange, while Natalia, In Barcelona, becomes (involved isn’t the right word, so let’s say) affected by the left-wing opposition. Escape is always an option for Whitelands, not so for Natalia. Reading both novels in the past fortnight felt like living in parallel universes.
Rodoreda’s novel is reputably the best Catalan novel ever written. First published in English as The Time of the Doves, in – if the reviews on Amazon are to be believed – an execrable translation, Virago Press have commissioned a new one by renowned translator Peter Bush, which reads beautifully
Natalia is a working-class girl with working class expectations: love, marriage and a family. Engaged to someone who doesn’t excite her, she is swept off her feet during a street party in Diamond Square. I’m not going to judge Joe by modern day standards but this error in judgement causes no amount of grief. Dearie me, the things women used to put up with! Anyway, following her heart rather than her head, Natalie marries him heralding “the time of the doves”, a time when her life and her home are overtaken by the doves that Joe decides to breed.
The political situation is just background noise in this domestic drama until Joe and his friends leave to fight the left-wing cause. Natalia is left to survive with two young children to feed and it is hard – not just for her – but for everyone in Barcelona. And yet, as the doves leave Natalia’s home, she gains a measure of self-esteem and independence previously unknown and once the war is over, she finally finds happiness in an unexpected place.
Politics feature only as they affect Natalia’s life. And she is such a passive character – her voice is matter of fact, non-judgmental. Actually simple and annoying to my way of thinking. But it is not what the author intended. Natalia is depicted as a woman of her time, the salt of the earth, and I should know better than to impose 21st century values on 1930’s Spain.
Recommended for those who loved Maria Barbal’s Stone in A Landslide.