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THE GRAY NOTEBOOK by Joseph Pla Kirkus Star

THE GRAY NOTEBOOK

by Joseph Pla, translated by Peter Bush

Pub Date: March 1st, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-59017-671-9
Publisher: New York Review Books

Pla (1897–1981) is considered one of the greatest writers of Catalan language, and this beautiful translation lets English readers glory in the quiet strength of his words.

At age 21, the author decided to change his style of writing—a little less flowery but not quite journalistic—and he began this diary, which begs to be read slowly, calmly and multiple times. At the beginning, he strikes a humble, self-deprecating chord regarding his writing. “If these jottings do escape the flame,” he writes, “perhaps one day a distant relative or curious individual with time on his hands will deign to glance their way.” The first half takes place in the countryside, just north of Barcelona, in 1918. Pla’s law classes in Barcelona have been suspended due to the outbreak of influenza. In the comfort of his family home in Palafrugell or wandering about their farm, he watches, feels, smells and hears all that is beautiful in his Catalonia. The author’s writing is not just about description—that’s too simple a word. He masterfully conveys the actual mushroom-y smell of the earth, the odors, the colors in the egg-yolk sky and the taste of spring in Muscat grapes. His lyrical stories capture the soul of his people: of Gervasi, who blew a conch shell every day to mark dawn, noon and dusk; and of Roldós, the pianist who played Bach at the silent movies. In the second half of the book, the narrative moves to Barcelona as classes resume. Pla chronicles his discovery of the circles of men who talked late into the night, the old defending what is, the young, what ought to be. The author examines boardinghouse life, describes how different shoes squeak and worries if understanding Nietzsche is a step forward or backward.

A classic. Readers who travel to the Costa Brava will truly feel what Pla has written.