Students of Orwell’s journalism and of Kapuscinski will be glad to discover Pla, whose melancholy resembles that of his...


Pla (The Gray Notebook, 2014, etc.), the late Catalan pessimist, is given another airing in English thanks to the efforts of his dogged translator, Bush.

Gone 35-odd years now, Pla gave Romain Rolland a run for the money in the prolific department: when he died, he left behind more than 30,000 pages of published work and many more unfinished and uncollected pages as well. The present work, published as La vida amarga in 1967, continues Pla’s long project of creating a literature of real-world description, blending history, travelogue, memoir, and journalism. Pla as narrator is ever present, but if he’s a moody and brooding sort, his gaze is seldom trained inward and is certainly not self-pitying; he’s busy looking across the table at the bistro or, more often, the boardinghouse and wondering who those strange people are and why they think and act as they do: “Two words and he’d already slipped up and, trembling and blushing, he sputtered out strange drivel. The landlady would silence him with a withering look. The others dared not laugh or speak. They lowered their eyes in dismay, as if suffering a great calamity.” “The waiter had thought profoundly about tourism, and the conclusions he’d drawn had led him to admire artists boundlessly.” Moving around the capitals of Europe in a time of depression and unremitting melancholy, Pla often serves up small moments of perhaps unintentional brilliance, as when he puts felines to work for political ends: “In this household, Frau Behrends and the cat represent the past, tradition, and order; Roby and the kitten, the future, revolution and instability.” About all that’s missing from this sprawling narrative of vignettes and sharp aperçus is a sense of the author, who sometimes remains hidden; a circumstantial introduction, especially addressing Pla’s politics in that most political of times, would have been very useful.

Students of Orwell’s journalism and of Kapuscinski will be glad to discover Pla, whose melancholy resembles that of his contemporary Stefan Zweig—and for some of the same reasons. 

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-914671-13-8

Page Count: 600

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet



A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

Did you like this book?


This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet