Open Letter, 2009
Mercè Rodoreda (1908–1983), often acclaimed as the greatest modern Catalan author, worked as a seamstress and wrote novels while in exile in France and Switzerland for over 20 years during Franco’s regime. Death in Spring, her last novel and posthumous masterpiece, is painfully beautiful, revealing a deep individuality continually curtailed by force of conformity. Translated into English by Martha Tennent, Rodoreda’s short novel is a deft political allegory bursting with paradox and intrigue.
Written in haunting first person by an unnamed protagonist, Death in Spring takes place in a remote mountain village precariously sitting atop rocks in a river. The village rituals are shocking, symbolic, and suggestive of an impenetrable power structure. When adults meet together, children are locked in closets; when a man misbehaves, he is beaten in the middle of the night or ritualistically thrown into the river to be killed or maimed by the rocks that support the village; the dying are publicly tortured until dead by having red cement poured down their throats; the dead are buried in trees; and a nonconformist member of the village is kept in a cage until he no longer behaves like a human.
Rodoreda inverts traditional associations and symbols: “Spring is sad, in spring all the world is ill, plants and flowers are earth’s plague, rotten … the affliction of the green, so much greenness and poisonous color.” 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.