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by Mercè Rodoreda
Translated from the Catalan by Martha Tennent
Reviewed by Andrew Stancek

When General Franco took power in Spain, he repressed all regional languages including Catalan, prompting the twenty-six year old Mercè Rodoreda to go into exile, where she did not write for twenty years. Now a legendary Catalan writer, Rodoreda's prose has been called "the best written in Spain in the modern era" by Gregory Rabassa; Gabriel Garcia Marquez found himself "bedazzled by the sensuality with which she reveals things within the atmosphere of her novels". The Time of the Doves is considered the best novel dealing with the Spanish Civil War. Her work is enjoying a renaissance; the novel Death in Spring (reviewed in Belletrista, Issue 7) was issued in English in 2009, and is now followed by The Selected Stories.

Mercè Rodoreda's stories have an unmistakable flavor and tone all her own. They are sensual, observant and detailed. Her protagonists are usually women filled with an ache, acutely aware of their own inadequacy, of the inadequacy of those around them, of the impossibility of happiness.

Typical is the protagonist of "Engaged", a young woman about to be married to a man she loves passionately and who loves her equally. Yet the story ends with, "She squeezed his arm tenderly, but she wanted to weep. Houses, trees, streets—everything seemed false and useless." In "Blood" a woman marries the man she loves but in no time she falls prey to obsessions and becomes "filled with sadness, no one to console me…consumed by a terrible unhappiness." For years she obsesses, overwhelmed by her unhappiness, until in old age they separate, since "as soon as I saw him, an uneasiness rushed through me, and I did not feel good until he left." In "Threaded Needle", a woman obsesses about murdering her cousin for his money, realizes what she had been thinking and is, at the end of the story, "still weeping when the sun came up." "Carnival" has a male protagonist, a young man who falls madly in love with a woman he meets at this time of magic. But when they separate at the end of the night, as they must, we are told that she "would never again remember that night." He is left "to his most naked reality… disconsolate." The young boy in "Guinea Fowls" observes hens being killed by a vendor, and it sums up all existence. "All his grief, all his pent-up pain, came pouring out" as he announces "I'm terribly sad."

The stories are filled with longing, uneasiness, obsession, and the impossibility of fulfillment. Husbands are faithless, children are results of rape, life is disillusionment. The characters wish to die; they come to the realization of their imprisonment; they are powerless to effect any change in their lives.

Stylistically, the stories are gems, told with cutting edge realism. Sentimentality is completely absent. Each carries the reader along in its implacable inevitability. Rodoreda is a master who portrays the ordinary, despairing lives of her characters with a sure hand.