The Long Hello

The tail end of 2008 saw the publication of a thousand page correspondence between the writer and publisher Joan Sales and the novelist Mercè Rodoreda. Joan Sales is the author of 'Incerta Glòria', an epic modern classic (which - when it appeared in French just two years ago – was hailed by Le Monde as the finest Civil War novel to have come out of Spain). Sales returned to Barcelona from his post-war Mexican exile in 1955 and founded Club Editor, which his perseverance would eventually turn into a major Catalan-language publishing house. Not least because its star author was, precisely, Mercè Rodoreda, whose fiction would end up translated into 33 languages, from Croatian to Chinese. All this despite the fact that when they started off, in 1960, most of the Principality's population had lost the habit of reading Catalan – thanks to Franco's post-war ban on books in that language – added to which the mostly regime-friendly media in Barcelona silenced each and every title which slightly slacker censorship laws then allowed to appear in Catalan. When Rodoreda – exiled in Geneva – wrote to say she didn't understand why her masterpiece 'La plaça del Diamant' was selling so slowly, Sales, by way of illustration, explained that books sales were plummeting in New York, due to a recent two month newspaper strike there (and so an inevitable dearth of reviews). 'You have to understand,' he went on, 'that Catalan literature has had to live with its own "newspaper strike" since 1939'. So it must have been quite impossible for either Sales or Rodoreda to imagine that 49 years later – on the 7th of May last – the tears would roll out of the eyes of a famous Hollywood actress (Jessica Lange) as, moved beyond self-control, she recited extracts from the English version of 'La plaça del Diamant' before a mesmerised audience. In New York, once home of that illustrative two month newspaper strike.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, juny.

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