Goodbye, Ramona

Goodbye, Ramona was Montserrat Roig’s first novel, originally published in 1972, and now translated into English by Megan Berkobian and Maria Cristina Hall (following the success of Tiago Miller’s translation of The Song of Youth which was short-listed for the Republic of Consciousness Prize). It tells the story of three generations of Catalan women, grandmother, mother and daughter, all called Ramona, at three important moments in Catalan history. It opens and closes with a scene in which the mother, Ramona Ventura, searches for her husband, Joan, after a bombing raid in Barcelona during the civil war. This is not only a pivotal moment in Catalan’s history, but in her own, as she fears Joan is dead, a death that one suspects would have dramatically changed her future – a change which her daughter, with whom she is pregnant at the time, senses may have been positive. She describes her mother as “crushed by her husband’s very presence”:

“He frightened her and she didn’t make any effort to hide it, not even from her children.”

Later the novel will go on to reveal the back story to Ventura’s marriage, which perhaps begins with her mother, Ramona Jover’s, declaration that “I’ll never marry you off.” In fact, Ventura soon falls in love, but it is with a man called Ignasi:

“When she saw him two evenings later… Mundeta came to understand all that talk about beating hearts that she’d read about in novels, that a heart could race as if intending to burst, shattering into a million little pieces.”

On the day she is searching for Joan, Ventura looks back on this time as an exception in her life – “but everyone has a summer and a fall.” The difficulty for the three women in finding and holding onto happiness is a recurrent theme in the novel, emphasised by the fact that their stories are told concurrently, in fragments, moving from one to the other. Her own mother, Jover, whose story takes place at the turn of the century, finds herself in a conventional marriage with a man she likes but does not love:

“I feel none of the ivresse [intoxication] you read about in novels.”

Whereas her daughter finds love before she is married, she does so after, when she falls in love with a student, Victor:

“They say to love is to die. I must simply die of love then.”

Interestingly, in both cases, these love affairs are kept from Ramona Claret, who represents the youngest generation. Instead, her mother frequently talks about “an entire day spent searching for your father,” and whenever her grandmother talks about her husband, Francisco, “she did so like a woman in love, and Mundeta envied her for it.” Roig is charging these women with a dishonesty that perpetuates the difficulties women have in finding, and accepting, happiness. Ironically, Ramona Claret sees herself as rebelling against the previous generations in her own relationship with Jordi. She, too, has romantic ideas about love – “She’d spent her whole life searching for her one true love…”- and she longs to:

“…be back by his side, and for them both to be thinking that nothing else mattered but their own little world, just the two of them.”

Unfortunately, she is a student at the time of political unrest – at one point the universities are closed – and Jordi is heavily involved in the movement. This could perhaps be a warning sign for her if she knew the history of her family, as both her mother and grandmother’s ‘true loves’ were also politically active:

“Mundeta noticed that they’d set off from two distinct, irreconcilable points: she found herself in a universe in decline, unimaginative, corrupted for which the only plausible ending would be, at best, the triumph of individual happiness. It was very different in Jordi’s case: he belonged to family for which the word ‘struggle’ possessed, as was tradition, an optimistic and ascending meaning.”

To some extent, this dichotomy is central to the novel, which provides us with a version of Catalan history that acknowledges the political history but is focused on the emotional impact. It also demonstrates both changes which take place in women’s lives over almost a hundred years, and the factors which remain the same. Fittingly, it’s conclusions are nuanced rather than feminist, with Jordi telling Ramona Claret that, “we’re nothing but tiny particles, countless, inexistant nearly invisible particles. We’re not the centre of the world,” and Ramona Ventura realising amid the ruins:

“The truth is I’ve been moulded out of details and miniscule events which will never add up to much of anything at all.”

Goodbye, Ramona is a thoughtful, engaging kaleidoscope of women’s lives in the 20th century, and another example of Montserrat Roig’s skill as an author which is, thankfully, now being revealed to us.

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4 Responses to “Goodbye, Ramona”

  1. JacquiWine Says:

    This sounds like the kind of novel I would enjoy – multigenerational, female-centric, interesting setting. It tick a lot of boxes. It also seems to combine the personal and political/historical to very good effect. A great start to your Spanish lit month reads!

    • 1streading Says:

      Yes, I think you would find it interesting. Fum D’Estampa do a good job of combining new fiction with translating older works into English for the first time.

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    Sounds brilliant, Grant – I *am* glad Fum D’Estampa are bringing more books by women authors into English!

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