Cover of When I Sing, Mountains Dance

When I Sing, Mountains Dance

A Novel

Irene Solà

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Haruki Murakami had tried to create his version of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, but in remote Catalonia, with naive but poetic language and (perhaps ironically because we're talking about Catalonia) less surrealism and more folklore? And in under 200 pages?\n\nWhen I Sing, Mountains Dance is a polyphonic novel whose specificity of place pervades it with extraordinary depth. That place is a small town in the Pyrenees, where the physical and spiritual relics of generational tragedy (civil war) litter the landscape, and a particular family is scratching out a life as natural catastrophe and personal trauma sometimes overtake things. The totality of the place seems to be telling this story. Entries in this collection of monologues are voiced by: clouds, ghosts, mushrooms, deer, witches, mountains, and homo sapiens. The kaleidoscope of perspectives is playful while also grounding the events to an almost elemental perspective. "Here," says a whole, peopled landscape, "is life; it isn't always easy, but it is very much life." \n\nIrene Solà's 2019 novel was translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem and published by Graywolf Press this year. I ate up its 18 short chapters like so many exquisite little tapas. I don't mean that in an insulting way. Consuming tapas and short chapters of adventurous literary fiction are literally two of my favorite things. Plus this book also let me enjoy remembering the only time I have ever been in the remote Pyrenees, visiting a friend for a week a loooooong time ago. How we took a walk that ended in an improbable ruin perched in a place where nobody should be building anything, were overtaken in a microscopic town by a herd of demonstrative sheep, lost power in the middle of one freezing night in what was still mostly a barn, cobbled together dinners from the neglected pantry of poets and painters, and in general enjoyed feeling alive in majestically unpeopled spaces. That setting felt quiet while also crackling with a capability, if given full attention, of saying more than I was quite ready to understand. And it is surely my own memory playing tricks on me, but... this novel? It felt like that.

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Publisher Description

Sol?'s vivid and magical tale, winner of the European Union Prize, brings to life a small Pyrenees village. The story begins when a farmer is killed by a lightning strike during a storm, leaving his wife, Si?, a widowed mother to a daughter, Mia, and a two-month-old son, Hilari. When Mia grows up, she falls in love with Jaume, the son of "Giants," who are stigmatized for their size as well as lack of education and rough manner. After Jaume accidentally kills Hilari in a hunting accident, he's jailed while he awaits his trial for murder, and Mia is left alone to live her life in the mountains with her dog. Woven throughout are the voices of a roe deer, witches, a bear ("tremble in fear, men who killed us"), and Mia's dog. The mountains are heard from as well, alongside geological sketches, creating a multilayered and lush array of perspectives ("My slumber is so deep that it slips beneath the seas," says a mountain). In language at turns poetic and stark, Sol? offers a fresh and mythic work that fully reckons with the beauty and savagery of a landscape. (Publisher's Description)

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