The Time of Cherries by Montserrat Roig (Translated from Catalan by Julia Sanches) - review by Francesca Peacock

Francesca Peacock

Springtime in Barcelona

The Time of Cherries

By

Daunt Books 303pp £10.99
 

‘It’s like Proust’s madeleine, see, him dying right as I’m about to go back,’ says Natàlia, the protagonist of Montserrat Roig’s novel The Time of Cherries, originally published in Catalan in 1977 and now translated into fluid, expressive English for the first time by Julia Sanches. Natàlia’s nostalgia rush is caused by something rather more sinister than a madeleine. It’s 1974 and Puig Antich, a Catalan anarchist, has been executed. Natàlia is preparing to return to Barcelona, having left twelve years earlier in the wake of the miners’ strikes. Antich’s death provides a reminder of what she fled: the politics that set her in opposition to her family and earned her a short stint in prison. 

Roig’s first novel, Ramona, adéu (1972), follows the lives of three women (all called Ramona) from successive generations as Catalan history – the Spanish Civil War, the triumph of Franco, the rise of anti-fascist movements – unfolds around them. The Time of Cherries wears its politics on its sleeve: its title is taken from a song by Jean-Baptiste Clément supposedly dedicated to one of the fifteen thousand people killed during the suppression of the Paris Commune. It’s a song about ‘the springtime of joy’, a brief moment of respite before the ‘heartache’. The novel’s characters don’t know how close the time of cherries is. By the end of 1975, Franco will be dead. 

Although the main narrative is set over a handful of days – beginning with the moment Natàlia lands in an airport ‘much larger and brighter’ than she had imagined – earlier eras are repeatedly evoked. Scenes set in publishers’ offices in 1974 segue into ones centred on the student

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