Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Nada by Carmen Laforet

This remarkable novel has a long history in Europe, Spain most particularly, but a very limited one here in the United States. A British translation from the Spanish was done almost half a century ago, and a little-known academic publisher issued one a decade and a half ago, but copies of both are limited and fairly hard to come by. So this new translation by the redoubtable Edith Grossman is especially welcome, as it makes available to readers here a coming-of-age novel that is far more mature and stylistically accomplished than the most famous American example of the genre, J.D. Salinger's vastly overrated The Catcher in the Rye.

Carmen Laforet was in her early 20s when she wrote Nada and 23 when it was published in her native Spain and became the first recipient of that country's celebrated Nadal Prize. Its frank, unsparing depiction of Barcelona in the aftermath of Spain's destructive 1936-39 Civil War caused a sensation, and its spare literary style -- impeccably rendered by Grossman -- had considerable influence on subsequent Spanish and European literature. "It has never been out of print," the Guardian reported when Laforet died three years ago, "and, even today, sells several thousand copies a year."
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