Maica Rafecas: El setembre i la nit (September and the Night)
In her afterword Maica Rafecas indicates that the location and plot are partially but only partially based on fact. We follow the story of Anaïs and her family in the grape-growing region of Catalonia. Anaïs designs labels for wine bottles. She has recently left her husband, whom we do not meet and barely hear about, and is bringing up her daughter, Foix. Her family do not approve of the separation. Her family own a vineyard. However, vineyards in the region are not doing well. They are affected by disease and drought. The wine producers pay badly. The tradition of all the family being involved in the grape harvest seems to have faded away. Grandfather Pau was the great patriarch and worked hard producing quality grapes, dying while working in the vineyard. However he seems to have been a far from perfect husband. The issue of the men being far from perfect is one of the themes of this book.
Some of the producers have given up or are considering giving up. Magí, Anaïs’ father, has a full-time job at the coop. He makes an effort, with hired hands, but he is struggling. His unemployed thirty-something son, Jan, is not much help. Magí’s wife died giving birth to Jan, so he has had to bring up the two children on his own.
The key issue is that the vineyards are to be compulsorily purchased in order to build warehouses. Some people are happy to be bought out, others less so but accepting while others are very much opposed, firstly because it will destroy the character of the region and secondly there does not seem to be a need fore warehouses in the area. Moreover, it is felt that they will not help the huge unemployment problem, of which Jan is only one victim.
We open with Jan who is picking up his girlfriend, Samira. Like Rafecas, she is an anthropologist and announces to Jan that she has been offered a fellowship in Canada, which she plans to accept. She will soon leave and the two now only communicate on-line, with Jan feeling that she is slipping away from him.
When the family discuss the compulsory purchase, only Anaïs seems like putting up a fight. Anaïs would have to defend the family’s dignity. Who else if not her? Her father was getting old, and Jan‘s head was in the clouds.
Foix brings her a drawing she has made of the vineyard. In it is the picture of an old man. Foix says she met the old man in the vineyard and it is her great-grandfather. He died well before she was born. Anaïs is critical but when she briefly catches sight of an old man in the vineyard, she wonders who he might be. The matter becomes more complicated when both her brother and father cannot see him, even while she can.
Things get more complicated when Anaïs starts becoming obsessive about tending and protecting the vineyard, abandoning not only her job but her daughter. They think she really has lost the plot when she starts putting dog faeces on the vines, collecting bits of pottery. and even living in a shed in the vineyard.
At this point we meet Elisa, another determined woman. She is head of the regional social services but is somewhat bitter as her husband has left her for a younger woman. She receives a report from a doctor who has been informed about a seemingly crazy woman who is, of course, Anaïs.
Meanwhile Jan has taken up with a woman he knew at school but is worried about his future and his sister. He decides that Anaïs needs something to hold onto having lost mother and husband . But he is also concerned about his situation. Everything’s ephemeral and cyclical and a pile of shit at the same time. So what can Jan and Magí, two fairly decent but weak men, do? Can the people resist the warehouse plan? Is Elisa dealing with a mad woman or just a determined woman? Is Anaïs having mental health issues? Can she, on her own, save the vineyard?
This is an interesting novel on the not uncommon theme of progress versus tradition and, by extension, people and their culture and way of life versus capitalism. As mentioned, Rafecas’ story is based at least on part on fact, though, as she says, a lot has been changed. This issue is no doubt common in Catalonia, as it is elsewhere and Rafecas illustrates the key issues well, while telling a good story about strong women, not so strong men and people versus power.
First published in 2021 by LaBreu
First English translation in 2023 by Fum d’Estampa Press
Translated by Megan Berkobien and María Cristina Hall