‘When I Sing, Mountains Dance’ by Irene Solà – A Celebration of Human and Other Nature in All its Mess


‘When I Sing, Mountains Dance’ by Irene Solà (2019) – 198 pages             Translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem


So you don’t consider nature a mess? Consider birth. I rest my case. Now have I convinced you? A glorious mess. Most fiction hides all the grisly details and just tells you that a baby has been born. The novel ‘When I Sing, Mountains Dance’ revels and dwells on all the gore as well as the glory. It is all part of nature, the crudities that are inescapably part of nature as well as the beauty.

Notice that this novel is translated from the Catalan rather than from the Spanish. The Catalans are citizens of Catalonia which is a region in northern Spain in and near the Pyrenees Mountains. The largest city in Catalonia is Barcelona. The Catalans have their own language.

It’s a damp morning. I inhale bringing all that clean wet pure mountain air into my lungs. That aroma of earth and tree and morning. It’s no surprise the people up here are better, more authentic, more human, breathing this air every day. And drinking the water from this river.”

In ‘When I Sing, Mountains Dance’, each chapter is a separate monologue from a separate point of view. The point of view might be that of a cloud or a group of black chanterelle mushrooms or a young roe-buck deer or one of the humans who live in this neighborhood of the Pyrenees. In other words, you might say in more conventional fashion that this novel is a group of unusual interconnected stories.

Emotions are more naked up here too. More raw. More authentic. Life and death, life and death and instinct and violence are present in every single moment up here. The rest of us, we’ve forgotten how sublime life is.”

Here are the black chanterelle mushrooms speaking to us:

There is no pain, if you’re a mushroom! Rain fell and we grew plump. The rain stopped and we grew thirsty. Hidden, out of sight, waiting for the cool night. The dry days came and we disappeared. The cool night came and we waited for more. The damp night came, the damp day came, and we grew. Full. Full of all the things. Full of knowledge and wisdom and spores.”

I am not at all sure this is the way mushrooms speak, so fervently. The mushrooms speak for three tightly written full pages. They won’t shut up.

In another chapter, a very young roe-buck deer speaks to us for five pages.

Here is not only the natural but also the supernatural, witches and ghosts.

The art, the poetic flourishes, sometimes got in the way of the straight facts of the story for me so that I could not fully understand and appreciate what was really happening. Sometimes I was moved by the poetic excesses of the text without fully understanding the basic plot.

Sometimes I wished that the writing was drier, somewhat less earthy, more plain and less poetic. However it is also somewhat refreshing to encounter a writer who lets it all hang out.


Grade:    B



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