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The Time of the Doves, Merce Rodoreda, Graywolf Press, 201 pp (originally published in Spain, 1962; translated from the Catalan by David H Resenthal)
Ah, this was a beautiful book. It is tragic and sad so how did she make it so beautiful? The author, a Catalonian woman who came of age during the Spanish Civil War, saw her early novels burned by the authorities of the time as she became a refugee in France and did not write again for eight years. The Time of the Doves was her first novel after that hiatus.
Though I have not ever had to live where a war was being fought, this novel was personal to me for other reasons. I was raised by parents whose childhoods were shadowed by the Great Depression and whose young adult years were crimped by the fears and deprivations of WWII. In the 50s we had all we needed, though the Cold War was a distant but ever-present threat. My sisters and I were taught to believe that happiness was ours if we behaved ourselves, trusted that Jesus loved us, and did well in school.
So I grew up thinking that happiness was the goal and I pursued it madly, not by being a well-behaved believer in Jesus, but still sure it was my birthright. It was not! Now as I approach my elderly years, I know that happiness is as fleeting as spring flowers.
Suddenly, while reading The Time of the Doves, I realized, as the Eastern sages have been saying for eons, that happiness and sorrow are only polarities as are riches and poverty, success and failure, and on and on. There is a strange beauty in all of it.
Natalia, whose mother died when she was young and whose father barely acknowledged her existence, meets Quimet during a dance in one of the town squares of Barcelona. He woos her away from her current fiance, he bullies her yet holds for her a strange fascination. They marry and have two children but Quimet becomes obsessed with raising doves on the roof of their apartment building and stops making money. Natalia goes to work as a cleaning woman, the Spanish Civil War begins, and eventually she loses her husband, her job, and barely survives with those kids, all nearly starving to death.
Finally rescue, safety, and even love come back into her life but she cannot recover from the trauma or believe in love anymore. It is only because of Merce Rodoreda's exquisite prose (probably even more so in Catalan) that the whole picture of this woman's desires, fortitude, despair, and finally hope kept me from collapsing under all of Natalia's misfortune. I was sure she was doomed but there was beauty everywhere in the writing.
By the end, another one of my mother's lessons finally made sense to me. Only if one keeps going, one foot in front of the other, doing one's duties, does one have a chance at happiness, survival, and even life itself. As a child I thought she meant it was my duty to be happy. But she knew how fleeting happiness is, she already knew how long life could be, and that there is no sense crying about it. Instead she grew flowers, played the piano, and kept an orderly home. Thanks Mom. Thanks Merce Rodoreda. They both knew that beauty matters.
Thanks also to my blogger friend Edith at Edith's Miscellany for introducing me to this novel in her review. The Spanish version she read was entitled In Diamond Square.
(The Time of the Doves is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)