Baltasar Porcel - a "Mediterranean novel flooded with light and bathed in darkness." As the plot becomes increasingly textured with piracy, smuggling, the Inquisition, morbid familial relationships, eroticism, and occult occurrences, it is all but impossible to resist this epic story
Baltasar Porcel, Springs and Autumns, Trans. by John L. Getman, University of Arkansas Press, 2000.
read it at Google Books
Springs and Autumns is a compelling novel that chronicles, through the voices of several family members, the intriguing history of an extended Majorcan family. The novel is set in Orlandis (a fictional version of Porcel's hometown) on the island of Majorca. Even though the novel rises from this specific, exotic island setting, Springs and Autumns ultimately appeals to universal human emotions. John German has captured the rhythm and poetic nature of Porcel's prose in his translation of Springs and Autumns. Working from Porcel's original Catalan and Spanish versions of the text, Getman manages to remain faithful to the feel and tone of Porcel's narrative while at the same time creating an exceptionally lucid English version. Although the entire novel takes place as the family gathers at Taltavull Hall for a Christmas Eve dinner, the reader is conveyed to places as far away as South America and Asia, learning along the way about murder, love, rape, incest, travel, discovery, regret, and forgiveness. Porcel accomplishes this through a narrative strategy that pieces together a complex mosaic of the family's history, with each new narrative layer adding insight to the previous narratives, ultimately creating a complex and engaging novel.
Catalan writer Porcel, now in his mid-60s and living in Barcelona, was born and raised on Majorca. The fictional town of Orlandis, at the westernmost end of that island, serves as the setting for this maze of tales, which--for want of a more precise term--may be called a novel. The narrative focuses on the present-day Taltavull family as its members gather at the clan's ancient island villa for a Christmas celebration. No single story is told. Rather, Porcel uses the occasion to dip into various Taltavull personal histories. What the author sacrifices in plot he regains in historical richness and depth, invoking time and history, the twin themes of his book. The narrative's governing emblems are the family's ancient, rambling and none-too-comfortable home--Taltavull Hall--and the erstwhile family business: alarm clocks. The members of the younger generation are introduced, but lacking histories, their stories are little more than brief character sketches. The adults are allotted longer accounts of family, commercial and erotic life that merge seamlessly with larger but understated themes of Catalan political and military history, especially Spanish Civil War history. Porcel scrupulously avoids nostalgia and idealization, the chief pitfalls of this genre. Getman's translation, based on Porcel's Catalan and Spanish versions, is engaging and often poetic. The reader is left with a vision of a clan that is not exactly attractive, "tied as if in a nightmare to the heritage of the place, the valley, the dead weight of the past." But the Taltavulls are admirable for their tenacity--rather like some hardy, weather-worn tree that survives despite the rocky soil and hostile climate in which it is rooted. - Publishers Weekly
A family gathering on the Balearic island of Majorca to celebrate Christmas generates the reminiscences that comprise this novel. The memories range as far back as the Spanish Civil War and involve places as distant as South America and Asia. One cousin, Cristofol, who abandoned his wife for Mexico and Peru after taking the lives of two dozen people during wartime, is chagrined to find that few remember him when he returns half a lifetime later. The retired commandeer Ignasi recalls his passionate affair with the Baroness Ingeborg, wife of one of the German officers stationed on the island, while admitting that he was never curious about what happened to the woman who now stands out in his old man's mind as the most beautiful he ever knew. Family members are split in their opinion of Arcadi the priest, who zealously campaigns to halt pagan rites on the tiny nearby island of Molta MurtaDonly to confront his own grandmother in the moonlight administering the rites. As Porcel examines the age-old need to impose order upon the chaos of memory, he hits upon atavistic undercurrents familiar to us all. Following on the heels of Horses into the Night (Univ. of Arkansas, 1995), this is Porcel's second novel to appear in English. Recommended for general readers. - D Jack Shreve
This is one of two of Porcel’s novels translated into English. Like many of his other novels it is set in his home town of Andratx, Majorca, thinly disguised as Orlandis. It takes place entirely during the course of one day, a Christmas Eve. When this is, is not entirely clear but it is clearly modern times as they have colour television. It is set in Taltavull Hall, family home of the Taltavulls, who are gathered for their traditional Christmas Eve dinner. Though it is set in such a limited time and place, it does, of course, refer to events elsewhere and at other periods. Indeed, it mentions the history of the family, going back to the sixteenth century.
The family had managed to survive with its clock business. This has ceased to function during the Civil War and, after the war, had not immediately reopened, because of lack of both supplies and markets. Once they did get going again, they found they could not compete with the Swiss. However, they were able to find markets in the developing world and Joan Pere, who had been delegated to find these markets, had been very successful. He spent most of his time abroad, which really did not bother him, as he soon felt at home anywhere, particularly as far as the opposite sex was concerned.
Near to Taltavull Hall is La Paret. The five women who live there are related to the Taltavulls. However, since their father had died, they have fallen on hard times as, essentially, they have virtually no source of income. Indeed, though all were adults when he died, none of them was even engaged, let alone married. Ramon Consolat was given power of attorney and he sold off the estate piecemeal, thereby accelerating their ruin. He did eventually marry one of the sisters, Caterina. Ramon is essentially a delivery man and most Saturdays (but not all) he turns up with a basket full of food for the sisters. - read more here:
Baltasar Porcel, Horses into the Night, University of Arkansas Press, 1995.
read it at Google Books
Originally published in 1975, Cavalls cap a la fosca was hailed by the public and critics alike as perhaps the most incisive Catalan novel since the Spanish Civil War. It was honored with four prestigious literary prizes, including the 1976 Spanish Literary Critics' Award.
Horses into the Night, while firmly set in the postmodernist "magical realism" strain, remains entertaining and accessible; the narrator's search for his roots - especially for his father - among the myths, stories, lies, and truths of his family and hometown, strikes a universal chord. As the plot becomes increasingly textured with piracy, smuggling, the Inquisition, morbid familial relationships, eroticism, and occult occurrences, it is all but impossible to resist this epic story described by El Pais as a "Mediterranean novel flooded with light and bathed in darkness."
"Three small horses in gold on a field of black" are heraldic symbols of Escolastic de Capovara, an aristocrat from the town of Andratch in northern Majorca and the master of Son Capovara?until the thoroughly reprehensible Jaume Vadell appropriates both standard and demesne. Translated into English for the first time, this winner of the 1976 Spanish Literary Critics Award is really a gathering of gruesome and gothic stories about Jaume's descendants as they gallop toward oblivion. The Majorca described by the clan's wary survivor isn't a sunny vacation spot but an overripe Mediterranean cousin of Annie Proulx's and Howard Norman's Newfoundland, filled with characters scarred both by their isolation and by the hard environment of the sea. The Vadells in particular seem prey to foreign religious influences that wash up on shore: a few fall to the depredations of Moorish pirates; others to a fatal fascination with the schismatic Pedro de Luna (Benedict XIII). Although stories of incest (and its freakish results), horrifying revenge, autos-da-fe and unhinged monomania are not for everyone, for readers with a taste for the Grand Guignol, there is an undeniable cruel elegance to Porcel's prose ("like the solitude of my husband Ferran, already an animal, ringing his bell in his room for me to come to him, sitting there in his wheelchair, a survivor in the antechamber of a death that would not come"). - Publishers Weekly
“Was it the spell of autumn with its luxuriant, rusty foliage, Notre Dame rising in the distance, each stone so precisely cut and self-contained, its spire outlined sharply against the bleak gray sky? I don’t know…
I always get up late, toward midday. The heating system has created a stuffy atmosphere in the apartment, which makes me drowsy. I fix some orange juice and coffee. I open the window and sip the coffee slowly, then I light a cigarette. And I invariably ask myself how I would describe the huge gargoyles perched on the cathedral I see in front of me just across the river. It’s sort of an obsession, maybe tied to the dream that plagues me. Every night the dream traps me in its exhausting and vicious underground existence that I know nothing about, but carry inside me and have to relive…where vague, unidentified threats lurk…
I think the gargoyles come from a similar world. They have animal bodies with the sleekness of birds, perverted by beastly, sardonic human grimaces. The Seine flows by, smooth, stoic, and leaden.
I usually drop by the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. It’s right beside my apartment building on Bûcherie Square. The books, posters, and other unique objects, such as balalaika or shabby postcards from the twenties, fill the decrepit bookstore to overflowing and exude a heavy darkness. The man with the goatee always nods off behind the little counter. It moves me somehow to think of the shadows of Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Hemingway haunting this place from the time when Sylvia Beach had this shop on Odéon Street. It’s as if in that remote air, in the eroded neglect floating among those piled-up shelves, an echo of their time remains. Among the corners stuffed with books – most of them used – I find a trace of peacefulness.”
excerpt from The Enchanted Isles by Baltasar Porcel