Mercè Rodoreda: La plaça del Diamant (UK: The Pigeon Girl; US: The Time of the Doves)
Rodoreda’s best-known novel and the first to be translated into English sees us in familiar territory, the story of a generally fairly ordinary woman struggling with life. Natalia works in a pastry shop and comes from a fairly well-to-do family. She has a boyfriend, Pere, who works in the basement of a hotel as a cook. She goes with her friend to a square where they are dancing and is asked for a dance by a young man, Quimet. He calls her Colometa (colom is the Catalan for dove). Soon, Pere is cast aside and she and Quimet get married. Quimet is a carpenter and builds furniture for their flat. However, when it comes to doing any work decorating, he seems to have an excuse and leaves it to Natalia and his friends, Mateu and Cintet. When they are later married, he often seems to have a pain in his leg when things need to be done. However, he is, on the whole, a good and loving husband. They have two children, Antoni and Rita. To supplement their income, Natalia gets a job cleaning with a bourgeois family who are both somewhat peculiar and demanding. Quimet takes a fancy to doves and gradually collects more and more. The doves live in the house but it is Natalia who has to feed them and clean up after them, while Quimet brings home ever more. She eventually gets so tired of them that she sabotages his plans, by distracting the mother doves from their chicks, leaving them to die, and by damaging the eggs. Quimet eventually gives up on the idea of doves. However, their life is generally happy till the Spanish Civil War.
The War causes two problems. Quimet is clearly pro-Republican and goes off and fights for them. Natalia’s employers know this and this fact, coupled with the financial situation, means that they dismiss her. She manages to get odd jobs cleaning but the situation gets worse. Finally she has Antoni taken to a boy’s camp where, at least, he will be fed, even though he is terrified by the prospect. But the camp is of limited duration and he eventually returns. Soon, the family is starving, despite Natalia having some work. Quimet does turn up now and then, usually with food, but eventually she gets the visit that she had been dreading and learns that he has been killed, leaving behind only his watch. With things getting worse and no prospect of food, Natalia decides to kill her children and herself. She takes a bottle and goes to the local grocery shop to buy hydrochloric acid which she is intending to pour down the throats of her children and then herself. The grocer, however, recognises her and offers her a job. Eventually, he will marry her and help bring up her children.
Her marriage is generally happy, marred only by concerns that Quimet is not really dead and will suddenly turn up. There is no sex as the grocer was wounded in the war but he is a good husband and father, particularly to Antoni who worships him to such an extent that he wants to follow in his step-father’s footsteps. Rita gets married, after first contemplating a career as an air hostess, Natalia deals with her personal demons and everything ends up well. Rodoreda as always tells a first-class story, showing the woman’s side which is not always easy, particularly in wartime.
First published 1962 by El Club dels Novelòlistes
First English translation by André Deutsch (as The Pigeon Girl) in 1967; by Taplinger (as The Time of the Doves) in 1980