Life Embitters is a happy mix of stories, memoir, essays and travel pieces, ‘narrative literature’ in Josep Pla’s words. The basis of his writing is observation of detail. As he wrote in The Gray Notebook, published in English last year, ‘The drama of literature never changes. It is much more difficult to describe than to opine. In view of which, everyone prefers to opine.’
Pla (1897–1981) was a liberal journalist in the 1920s and 1930s, reporting from all over Europe for the newspapers of Barcelona. This career was halted by the 1936 military uprising that started the Spanish Civil War. Revolution broke out in Catalonia and Pla fled: he came from a family of small landowners and was hostile to the anarchists. In exile, he spied for Franco on ships leaving Marseille (a city featured brilliantly in Life Embitters). In January 1939, Pla entered Barcelona with the dictator’s conquering army.
Pla was rapidly disappointed by Franco’s victory. He returned to his family’s farmhouse near Palafrugell, his home town on the Costa Brava, but was unable to write or speak publicly his outlawed language, Catalan. During the Second World War, he spied again, this time on shipping for the Allies. Denied