August is traditionally a month of many acquisitions, due to the temptations at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Well, I haven’t visited the festival yet, but the acquisitions have already begun. Independent publishers know how to market their wares with tempting offers, especially during #WITMonth. Fum D’Estampa, specialists of Catalan literature, have certainly pulled out the stops in August 2021 with a 40% discount across their entire catalogue. Given all the wonderful things I’ve been reading about them from trusted blogging sources, and my fondness for Barcelona, I’ve bought their entire catalogue (9 current and 2 future publications) for less than the price of 3 £20 hardbacks!

Best get reading then … starting with Fum D’Estampa No 9. (Another clever move on their part. Numbered books – this is going to play havoc with my completist compulsions.)

Translated from Catalan by Peter Bush

Forty Lost Years is the story of Laura Vidal, an adolescent teenager in 1930s Barcelona. She is from a poor family, and lives with her parents and her brother in their concierge cubbyhole. She becomes an apprentice seamstress. She has both talent and ambition, and soon sets up on her own with the support of her wealthy married lover.

Laura, you see, is refusing to do the traditional thing. Settle down, marry, have kids, scrape together an existence, however she can. For all her independence, she is not averse to using men to get what she wants, and she will later use another to secure shelter for herself when living in exile in France. A lot of history is about to interfere with Laura’s plans. Think the short life of the Catalonian Republic, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Franco dictatorship. When defeat is looming for the Catalanists, Laura and her friends decide to leave for France while they can. A few years laters, as the Nazis march through France, Laura attempts to flee to Mexico. (The attempt fails, the details of her “odyssey” as she calls it , are harrowing.)

At some point – I think it’s 8 years after she leaves – she decides to return to Barcelona. Having lost none of her drive, she sets up a successful haute couture business, becoming known as “La Vidal”. Well known and influential, it is now her turn to be used for her business contacts by the younger man she cares about. (Karma?) Even now, time will not stand still, and the advent of fast fashion, which Laura laments, means she must adapt once more.

That has always been the way of it, and Laura has always just got on with surmounting the obstacles in her path. But she is pulled up in her tracks one day, when, in her early 50’s, she hears herself referred to as an “old dear”. (The dreaded word “spinster” soon follows.) Imperceptibly 40 years have passed, and Laura has that moment, which comes to us all, of asking where has it gone? This effect is replicated in the book by Arquimbau not foregrounding specific political events, not date-stamping the events in Laura’s life. Time and events proceed, we are simply in the stream of time, and both it and the reading speed by quickly.

This also makes the work timeless in a sense. The struggles Laura faces – the fight for personal independence, the search for safe harbour in time of war, and on a less serious note, the sudden shock of discovering yourself to be a dinosaur – are still experienced by millions in our world. The details of Arquimbau’s life, provided in Julia Guillamon’s epilogue, show that the author was much more politically engaged and persecuted in the Franco dictatorship than her protagonist, though some of Laura’s experiences are Arquimbau’s own. However, the reduction of persecution and political polemic allows the story to raise pertinent questions but not weigh it down with potentially unbearable political realities.

Thus my first Fum D’Estampa read was both enjoyable and enlightening. I look forward to enjoying the rest of my new collection.

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