Jesús Moncada - a fantastic compendium of Catalán history as seen through the eyes of one small town, the author’s birthplace.

Image result for Jesús Moncada, The Towpath,
Jesús Moncada, The Towpath, Trans. by Judith Willis, HarperCollins, 1995.             


excerpt


During the Great War, the Spanish town at the centre of this novel turned into a boom-town, due to the demand for coal. After that, the downhill slide began, hastened on by Anarchists and left-wingers; then the Civil War and Franco's depression. Then came the March of Progress.
Read more at https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1028624/the-towpath/#viTTJyq5eAKQD9PL.99


Until 1971 the town at the centre of this story was a river port at the confluence of the Ebro and the Segre. In its heyday the lower orders - coalminers, bargees, small tradesmen, the clientele of the Quayside Cafe - contributed to the life, vigour and prosperity of the town, while according proper deference to the upper crust - the mine-owners, the fleet-builders and landed proprietors who patronised the Casino de la Roda, kept their favoured pews in church and provided for the maintenance of the luscious chorus girls down at the Eden. There were halcyon years, as during the Great War, when the embattled Powers' insatiable demand for coal turned the place into a boom-town, and the Armistice was greeted as bad news. After that, the downhill slide began, hastened on by Anarchists and left-wingers who fomented trouble in the pits; then the Civil War and its attendant repression, which filled Franco's jails with all too many citizens. But Franco's repression was as nothing compared with the March of Progress in the shape of a hydro-electric scheme that was to leave the town under several fathoms of water. One by one the houses were pulled down in clouds of dust, the families moved to a newly built town, and only the grandest of the grandes dames, Senyora Carlota, refused to leave her mansion until carried out in her coffin.


This haunting book won six Spanish literary prizes when it was published and deservedly so.  It is a fantastic compendium of Catalán history as seen through the eyes of one small town, the author’s birthplace. 
Until 1971, the town at the centre of this story was a river port at the confluence of the Ebro and the Segre.  In its heyday the working population – the coalminers, bargees, small tradesmen and customers of the Quayside Café contributed to the life, vigour and prosperity of the town, while according proper deference to the upper crust – the mine-owners, the fleet-builders and landed gentry who patronised the Casino de la Roda, kept their favoured pews in church and provided for the maintenance of the luscious chorus girls down at the Eden.  These were halcyon days, as during the Great War, when the embattled powers’ insatiable demand for coal turned the place into a boom town, and the Armistice was greeted as bad news. After that, the downhill slide began, hastened on by Anarchists and left-wingers who fermented trouble in the pits; then the Civil War and its attendant repression, which filled Franco’s jails with all too many citizens.  But Franco’s repression was as nothing compared with the March of Progress in the shape of a hydro-electric scheme that was to leave the town under several fathoms of water. One by one the houses were pulled down in clouds of dust, the families moved to a newly built town and only the grandest of the grand dames, Senyora Carlota, refused to leave her mansion until carried out in her coffin.
This is a wonderful book and captured the very essence of small town life in Catalunya.  It is highly recommended. - www.thinkspain.com/news-spain/884/the-towpath-jesus-moncada


Jesús Moncada was born in the town of Mequinenza (Mequinensa in Catalan), a Catalan town that was moved (i.e the old town was destroyed and a new one built) to make way for a large dam/reservoir for a hydroelectric project. This novel is a fictionalised version of those events and the history behind them. If you read the Wikipedia article (linked above) you will see a reference to an old Mequinenza family called Montcada. I assume that our author is descended from this family. Whether he is or not, he does (affectionately) mock the upper classes of the town.
The book starts with an anonymous chronicle written about the events and, specifically, when the first house was destroyed. The church clock stopped, the weather was stormy, a loud bang as the house fell was heard throughout the town and everyone stopped what they were doing and Llorenç de Veriu came back from the dead to see his old house. It turns out that this was untrue. The church clock often stopped though that day it did not, though it was fast. Few people noticed the first house being destroyed and the weather was nice. Llorenç de Veriu was not seen, alive or dead.
Much of the focus is on Carlota. She was the daughter of the late Senyor Torres. He had married into the Camps family, which owned the liquorice extraction factory. Torres took it over and soon had made much success out of it. He was not attracted to his wife – too skinny for his taste – though they did have three children, including Carlota. He preferred to get his pleasures elsewhere. However, he does have a ferocious mother-in-law. We meet him when he is having his portrait painted, watched by his adoring daughter and fairly adoring wife. During the painting, a shot is fired, the bullet goes right through his forehead (in the portrait, that is) and grazes the cheek of the real Senyor Torres. Was it an anarchist? That is the conclusion but, as with the anonymous chronicle, we learn a somewhat different story. Indeed, there are several such stories, where we initially get the received account and then, later, the real account. - The Modern Novel
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