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The Gray Notebookby Josep Pla
Synopses & Reviews
Josep Pla, a budding young writer, was studying law in Barcelona in 1918 when the university was shut down because of the Spanish flu epidemic. Pla returned to his parents’ house in the coastal town of Palafrugell, and with nothing to do he decided to keep a journal in which he would describe—as a way of honing his skills as a writer—everything about the daily life of his family and friends that had any interest for him. The gray notebook in which he kept this journal would survive the Franco regime, when Pla’s native Catalan tongue was suppressed, to emerge, some fifty years later as The Gray Notebook, the most celebrated work of twentieth-century Catalan literature, admired as much for its pitch-perfect prose as for its shrewd observance of the human comedy, the great book of the great city of Barcelona and of life on the beach. The Gray Notebook, full of incident and humor and light, is pure pleasure to read: a glowing Bonnard interior on an epic scale.
The first part of the book, which begins on March 8, 1918, is a story of family life on the Costa Brava and the coming-of-age story of a young man torn between an old-fashioned ideal of a life of quiet dedication to work and family and the intellectual seductions of European culture. Pla’s enthusiasms and uncertainties, friendships and crushes, his reading, the drama and politics and absurdity of family life—we are drawn into all these as we also follow Pla in his wanderings through town, scrutinizing his fellow citizens, or out under the magnificent skies of the still-unspoiled countryside of the coast. In January 1919, Pla returns to Barcelona to complete his studies, and the book’s second part paints a hilariously revealing picture of student life. He learns next to nothing from his teachers, a good deal more from the writers and artists he meets in cafés and salons, and most of all from Barcelona itself, with its night life and ramblas, the city of Gaudi and Modernisme, where just outside the city limits the seemingly timeless life of the country still went on as before.
Combining delightful informality with a perfect clarity of expression and an attention to the detail of day-to-day life that makes it seem anything but banal, The Gray Notebook is both a revelation of its author’s singular sensibility and a universal work of art.
Josep Pla (1897–1981), the eldest of four children, was born in Palafrugell on the Costa Brava to a family of landowners. He studied law in Barcelona, abandoned law for journalism, and in 1920 moved to Paris to serve as the correspondent for the Spanish newspaper La Publicidad. Banned from Spain in 1924 for his criticisms of the dictator Primo de Rivera, Pla continued to report from Russia, Rome, Berlin, and London, before returning to Madrid in 1927. He supported the new Spanish Republic that emerged in 1931, but was soon disillusioned and left the country during the Civil War, returning in 1939. Under the Franco regime, he was internally exiled to Palafrugell and his articles for the weekly review Destino were frequently censored. After 1947 his work began to be published in Catalan, and his complete works were published in full in 1966. They comprise forty-five volumes, of which The Gray Notebook—begun in 1919, but polished and added to throughout the intervening years—is the first.
Peter Bush is an award-winning translator who lives in Barcelona. Among his recent translations are Ramón del Valle-Inclan’s Tyrant Banderas (for NYRB Classics), Teresa Solana’s Crazy Tales of Blood and Guts, Mercè Rodoreda’s In Diamond Square and Najat El Hachmi’s The Body Hunter.
Valentí Puig is a Catalan poet, novelist, and literary critic who writes in both his native Catalan and in Spanish.
Josep Pla (1897–1981) was a Catalan journalist and popular author. He produced an immense amount of prose spread over numerous genres and is widely considered one of the greatest writers in the Catalan language.
Peter Bush is an award-winning translator who lives in Barcelona. Among his recent translations are Juan Goytisolo’s Níjar Country, Ramón del Valle-Inclán’s Tyrant Banderas (available from NYRB Classics), and Quim Monzó’s A Thousand Morons.
Valenti Puig is a Catalan journalist literary critic, poet, and novelist who writes in both his native Catalan and in Spanish.
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