In Diamond Square

Written by Mercè Rodoreda (trans. Peter Bush)
Review by Lucinda Byatt

This classic Catalan novel was first published in 1962, and this is the third English translation, to mark the book’s fiftieth anniversary. Rodoreda was still living in exile when she wrote the book in the aftermath of the Civil War, but her work soon became the symbol of the re-emergence of that extraordinary culture and minority language from Franco’s military and linguistic stranglehold. The indomitable spirit of Natalia, or La Colometa (the pigeon girl) as she is known in Catalan, emerges from the story told in the first person of her youthful passion and marriage, and then gradual slide into poverty as Catalunya was hit by economic depression and increasingly radical politics.

As with many powerfully written narratives, selected details and an understated tone paint a painfully vivid picture of suffering and starvation during the civil war years. Natalia’s focus is entirely domestic and this too reflects the parabola of her own life: the walls, doors, crockery and furnishings peel, crack and are sold as she and her children slide into poverty. At one point the intensity of the stream-of-consciousness prose reflecting Natalia’s mental state culminates in an ear-splitting scream. I was uncomfortable with some of the translated names in the book (Natalia’s husband becomes Joe in English, rather than Quimet as in previous translations); more successful was the choice of her own nickname Pidgey, rather than La Calometa.

Names aside, Natalia’s voice will echo in your ears, like the surging waves inside the couch shell which comfort her as she pieces together her life in Barcelona. There are some books that you know will remain with you forever. For me this is one, and I would strongly recommend that, if you haven’t already done so, you read it now.