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Death in Spring Hardcover – May 15, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Exiled after the Spanish Civil War, Rodoreda (1908–1993) worked on this marvelously disturbing novel over a 20-year period, and its first publication was posthumous. As macabre as a Grimm fairy tale, the novel portrays the cruel customs of an unnamed village as seen through the eyes of an unnamed 14-year-old boy. The narrator witnesses his father's horrible death, which, it becomes clear as the story progresses, happens according to local custom: to pour cement into the mouths of the dying in order to seal their souls within their bodies, then entomb them within a hollowed tree. The narrator also spends a good deal of time with the village prisoner, who for years has been confined to a too-small cage and now is only too happy to explain the bizarre village goings-on to the narrator and his friend, the son of the blacksmith who runs the town. The plot, though anemic, has its share of increasingly perverse twists, and the intense lyricism of Rodoreda's language, captured here by Tennent's gorgeous translation, makes her grotesque vision intoxicating and haunting. (May)
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Review

"Rodoreda infuses surreal elements into her novel in a similar fashion to her Spanish-language, magical-realist counterparts, using the fantastic to draw out the strangeness of quotidian reality, but perhaps due to its brevity (Death in Spring comes in at only 150 pages) the magical seems far more saturated than in, say, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and serves to further the sense that the story takes place in a world impossibly close to but distinctly alien from ours."–Hannah Manshel, The Front Table

"The bleakness of Rodoreda's outlook stands in dramatic contrast to the gorgeous lyricism of her prose. In Martha Tennent's translation, her sentences are richly luxuriant, embodying the fecund beauty of spring in bloom while also admitting the imminence of death and decay. Throughout Death in Spring, horror often creeps in right on beauty's heels."–Ryan Michael Williams, Rain Taxi

"Tradition is a strange and curious thing. "Death in Spring,"is a novel from Catalan author Merce Rodoreda, expertly translated by Martha Tennent. Focusing on a small town and its strande customs, "Death in Spring" is a very special and highly recommended read."–The Midwest Book Review

"The novel is suspenseful, pushing the reader through the images, memories, and voices that flow within the protagonist’s often confused mind as he develops into manhood. Just as the unnamed protagonist must navigate a world of contradictions, the novel reflects Rodoreda’s own political, social, and literary exile while speaking of a tyranny that feels almost uncanny in its incantation."–Katherine Elaine Sanders, Bomb Magazine

"This novel is just one boy's account of living life; it is an example that tells us a story: a beautiful and evocative and viscerally bloody story about life and death."–Patrick Gage Kelley, The Tartan

"Death in Spring is very different from any other story I've read. It's strange and unsettling but still compelling, and has stayed with me for many weeks as I try to work out its meaning. The obvious conclusion is that it is about the corruption of what is natural, as is death in the season of new life and rebirth."–Charlotte Simpson, Belletrista

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 150 pages
  • Publisher: Open Letter; 1 edition (May 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1934824119
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934824115
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,673,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. L. Fay on April 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Widely considered the most important Catalan author of the post-war period, Mercè Rodoreda (1909-1983) wrote her most important works in exile during Francisco Franco's reign as dictator of Spain and heavy-handed censor of culture. Married at age 20 to an uncle seventeen years her senior, Rodoreda began her career as a novelist in the early 1930s with the publication of "Sóc una dona honrada?" ("Am I a Decent Woman?"), which precipitated her transformation into a fashionable and daring woman who went on to pen political articles for Catalan newspapers. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, however, forced Rodoreda to flee to France and later Switzerland. She would later state that "Writing in Catalan in a foreign country is like wanting flowers to bloom at the North Pole." Still, despite the difficulties of writing abroad in a small regional language, Rodoreda's seminal work "La mort i la primavera" ("Death in Spring") probably could not have come together without its author's experiences living in foreign lands.

According to Catalan Literature Online, Rodoreda's novels and short stories often contain "an extraordinary assortment of exiles, soldiers, and unprotected people who find expression in a no-man's-land." It is a sort of bittersweet freedom that is at its most contradictory in "Death in Spring," first published posthumously in 1986 and only just now appearing in English. On the one hand, its vague, otherworldly setting is a remote village reminiscent of the isolated dystopia depicted in Lois Lowry's "The Giver," while the grotesque behavior of its people recalls Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." At the same time, however, the social outsiders "Death in Spring" centers on possess an autonomy and insight denied to the conformists surrounding them.
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Format: Hardcover
Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983) is widely regarded as the most important Catalan writer of the twentieth century. Death in Spring, her final novel and perhaps her masterpiece, is now available for the first time in English. This strange and beautiful coming-of-age story unfolds in and around a small, isolated village with no apparent connections to the outside world. Because of this abstraction of location, combined with the frequent appearance of symbolic objects, images, and characters, Death in Spring reads more like an allegory than a novel.

In the oppressive world of the village, the dead are stuffed with pink cement and then entombed in trees. Children are locked in cupboards, and young men are sacrificed to the all-powerful river, which inexplicably runs beneath the village. Despite this strangeness, Death in Spring is not an experiment in fantasy or surrealism but, rather, an exploration of a meticulously-rendered alternate reality. The village's bridges are specifically named, landmarks are pinpointed, and paths are described in detail, as are directions for getting from one place to another. Ultimately, however, this order is illusory. The village is precariously balanced on top of a swiftly moving river, and no amount of topographical precision will protect this troubled society from self-destruction.

Rodoreda's prose is poetic without sacrificing any of its ferocity. Her powerful imagery often subverts expectations. In the world of this novel, "Spring is sad" and "plants and flowers are earth's plague, rotten." The greenness of Spring is "poisonous color." Life is irrelevant and destruction is happiness:

"[Y]ou have to believe that it's all the same to have a face or have your forehead ripped away. It's all the same to live or die ....
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This posthumously published (1986) slim masterpiece by Catalonian Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983) will appeal to dedicated readers who don't require plot or concrete realism, and are willing to give up control for a visceral experience. Although it is challenging to inhabit the surreal and anthropomorphic narrative, the best way to read this is to let go and allow the lyrical juxtapositions to open up your senses. The book's poetic but brutally beautiful passages are delicately spun and dream-like. Rodoreda's eerie brand of magical realism vanquishes the literal world while permeating it with resounding effect. Again, I can't stress enough that you must be willing to capitulate to Rodoreda and curb any tendency to gain dominion over the narrative.

As you open to the first page, you are introduced to the fourteen-year-old narrator--who, by the way, is neither coy nor child-like, who becomes an adult at the end of Part Two (of Four). He's trying to reconcile his community's savagery with his limited and insulated worldview. The cloistered village of Maraldina he lives in is suspended perilously over craggy rocks that span over a river, whose current both cleanses and destroys. Annually, by lottery, a young man is chosen to swim the dark length of river under the village, which results in death or mutilation.

Legend has it that this fable-like town was born out of desire, at the river where two shadows joined at the mouth. Now, the townspeople must root out ardent longing with ruthless, barbaric practices, the most inhumane customs imaginable. When you die, you are entombed in a tree. During your last breaths, your mouth is filled with cement to prevent your soul from flying out.
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