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Portbou: A Catalan Memoir

with Stories from We, Women

by Maria Mercè Roca, Translated by Sonia Alland

Maria Mercè Roca’s tender narratives illustrate the potency of language:

the supplications were like a song and if I said them over and over I became drunk from the rhythm and the words, in a kind of ecstasy.”

A profound security is derived through shared conversations, as when her father picks her up from school:

You carry the suitcase and, at first, we walk fast without saying anything as if we were afraid they’d make us go back. When we’ve covered a bit of distance we look at each other and begin to laugh. … I calm down and nothing seems so tragic any more.”

As well as wounds incurred and deepened by silence. From a trauma of police brutality scraping at the interior mind and body—to a child punished by her mother’s refusal to speak or look at her. Many layered, the architecture of steps, ceilings, and train tracks structure the waxing and waning of human life and death.

* * *

“A beautiful and poignant letter to her father. The moving experience of the first seventeen years of the life of the author from Portbou, narrated in her style, diaphanous and intense.”

—MARIA BARBAL, Catalan Writer, Author of Stone in a Landslide

Maria Mercè Roca is a prominent Catalan writer who has published numerous novels, books of short stories, texts for young people, and has written for Catalan television. She has received some of the most prestigious prizes in Catalonia for her work. After recent years in the Catalan Parliament as a member of a party promoting independence, Ms. Roca has returned to writing full time with the publication of another novel, Al final, t’agradaré (You Will Like Me in the End).  
Sonia Alland translates from the French and the Catalan: She has translated works by the French writer, Marie Bronsard, and the poetry in French by Salah Al Hamdani. From the Catalan, Ms. Alland has done a selection of Maria Mercè Roca’s short stories and is translating selected poems by the Catalan poets, Salvador Espriu and Narcis Comadira.


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Pinyon Titles

Sonia Alland’s Translation of Maria Mercè Roca’s Work
By Roger West; Poet, Translator, Songwriter, & Performer
As a poet and as a translator who has translated poetry from French to English and from Arabic, Persian and Spanish to English via French, I am painfully aware of the pitfalls as well as the pleasures of translating and Sonia has done a remarkable job here in bringing Maria Mercè’s writing not just to the page but to living, breathing, palpitating existence.
The first thing that is obvious is that Sonia knows the milieu, the culture, the language; as we know the three are linked, with language carrying so much more than different words for things.  Good translation involves not just finding the right word in the destination language, it involves finding a way to re-present a text carrying and holding its essence in the writer’s choice of language and of everything that directs that choice through fresh images, metaphors and reference points that make it accessible in the new language.  Good literature always treads that high-wire between the particular and the universal anyway; good translation recreates that balancing act.
Also obvious is the ongoing personal relationship between translator and writer.  Living writers are (generally) easier to translate than dead ones - you can’t raise question or verify a point with Lorca or Cervantes - but where a translation really ignites is where there is an affinity, a mutual respect between translator and writer, even that kind of intimacy that produces leaps of faith and short cuts to understanding.  What we have here is that frisson of excitement of the translator about the texts and the attendant desire to first immerse herself and luxuriate within them and then to share them, to regift them to the world.
It’s that to and fro that bears fruit here, that exchange that encourages each, writer as well as translator, to uncover new layers of complexity and delight in the texts, to the extent that the word ‘translation’ becomes a misnomer; ‘co-construction’ would be a far more useful term.

Virtual Book Reading Videos

Excerpts Read by Sonia Alland

Side-by-Side Catalan-English Translation Excerpts from La casa gran + Nosaltres les dones & Portbou: A Catalan Memoir; with Stories from We, Women Read Side-by-Side