Garden by the Sea

Open Letter. Feb. 2020. 230p. ISBN 9781948830089. pap. $15.95. F
Francesc and Annamaria Bohigues spend six pre–Civil War summers in a seaside villa near Barcelona, hosting friends who while away their time partying, swimming, riding horses, and playing chess. When Eugeni, the neighbor’s son-in-law and Annamaria’s jilted lover, invites her to a late night tryst, she fails to show up and Eugeni takes his own life. This rather pedestrian story is salvaged by the lyrical descriptions of the landscape and the ocean and the reecreation of an age long gone. The major character, though, is the anonymous widowed gardener who, as he reports the events rather than purely narrating them, claims impartiality but gets involved in others’ affairs more than he admits; as the only character who is at the estate year round, he represents rebirth and survival with the passing of the seasons. His omnipresent Edenic garden, symbolic of lost innocence of childhood and an escape from everyday reality, looms so large that it almost becomes a character itself.
VERDICT Rodoreda is possibly the most important modern Catalan novelist, and this availability to English speakers corroborates that well-deserved reputation. Though the book was first published in 1967, its aesthetic and literary qualities still hold up well.

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