A great discovery of this week was to come across Mercè Rodoreda‘s novel The Time of the Doves (Plaça del diamant – in Catalan), novel considered to be Rodoreda’s most universal work, translated in more the 20 languages and one of the best reflection of the Spanish Civil War period.
The Time of the Doves is such a complex novel, written in a simple style yet so carefully and so filled with lyricism. Rodoreda used to say ” Good writing is very difficult to achieve. And when I say that, I’m referring to telling the essential matters in the most simple way.” and this is what she does in this novel: tells the most universal story known by mankind in the easiest manner possible. The story of going through life, struggling with its daily challenges, without knowing if you can ever succeed, and losing yourself on the way.
Actually, it’s not exactly losing oneself – and I refer here to the main character, Natàlia, also known as “Colometa” which means a little dove – but rather changing yourself, constrained by the outside world, and becoming a different version of yourself. This process is particularly found in Bildungsroman, novels that show the evolution of the main character in life in the attempt to find his real self. This is what happens to Natàlia, who meets one day Quimet at a popular celebration at Gràcia, a famous neighborhood in Barcelona. Quimet will become her husband and he is the one who will baptize her as “Colometa”, symbolic name change that represents the lost of an era of Natàlia’s life and the self-abandon into a new period, where she loses her individual identity and becomes a reflection of her husband, her family, of the time and place she was given to live.
Rodoreda said she wanted this novel to be “kafkanian”and explained later on: “I cannot say I have seen the metamorphosis of a human being, but I can definitely say I have seen the metamorphosis of a soul which is the core of the human being. A change of name represents a metamorphosis”. The transformation Natàlia experiences throughout the novel starts with the change of name; her new name, Colometa, that makes her appears fragile, vulnerable, on one hand, and captive, trapped in a life she hasn’t chosen for her, on the other.
Natàlia is also the narrative voice of the novel, fact that increases the intimacy between the reader and the character and makes the reader become instantly part of the story. Everything that happens is viewed through Natàlia’s eyes; we have access to all the events through her internal monologue, technique Rodoreda adopts from Proust, Faulkner and comes to master so brilliantly. The reader goes along with Natàlia as she suffers the lost of her husband and friends during the Civil War, struggles with poverty and famine and with the desperation of not being able to feed and protect her children. She almost reaches a point of no return when she plans a filicide, which she doesn’t pull through thanks to the help of the soon-to-be her second husband, Antoni.
Natalia’s struggle does not end with the end of the war of when she marries Antoni. Her internal fight is always there as a proof of the fact that history and life experiences leave a deep cut into anyone. Natàlia is going through an identity crisis, symbol of the modern human being, trying to discover herself or what is left of herself after life swept along.
A circular novel, with an open ending, beautifully written, The Time of the Doves tells the story of anyone of us as part of the bigger mechanism called life…