Maria Barbal: "I am by definition a Catalan author"

Maria Barbal has a voice within the literary landscape of the Iberian peninsula. A Catalan voice, with the successful writer consciously upholding the thousand-year tradition of Catalan. Newsletter writer Susanne Broos talks to the author about native language, overcoming language barriers and writing.
Susanne Broos: You are seen as one of the most important and most successful Catalan authors of the present day. What does writing mean to you?
Maria Barbal: For me, writing means a dialogue with the world, reflections coming from my inner self with the help of words.
- What subjects most concern you as an author?
In my literature, I deal in particular with the reaction of people to injustice and social change, with having to adapt.
-How important is it for you to write in your native language of Catalan?
Writing in your own language is completely normal for every writer. But for me it is also important to express my thoughts and feelings in this thousand year old language which I have inherited. I want to carry on its literary tradition.
- When you read them, how do you find your books that have been translated into Spanish?
I like them. They express my view of things in a sister language, Castilian, with its tradition that I know well and value greatly.
- Do you see yourself as a Spanish or Catalan author? And how do others see you?
Since language is the instrument we use in literature and since I write in Catalan, I am by definition a Catalan author. On the other hand, Catalonia is an autonomous community within the Spanish state. From a political point of view, that means that every Catalan author could also be described as Spanish. However, I do ask myself why, when there is talk in Spain or abroad of Spanish authors, mention is rarely made of those in our country who write in one [of the three] other languages apart from Castilian.

A new variety, try one, c.1890
DeScott Evans (1847-1898)

- In Germany, the German edition of your book, Pedra de tartera ("Wie ein Stein im Geröll") is already a bestseller. Did you notice the effect of that when you were here recently?
When I was in Berlin a short while ago I met German readers who were very interested in my subject matter and my style. That made me very happy and grateful.
- Pedra de tartera ("Wie ein Stein im Geröll") was your debut novel, published back in 1985. It is now in its 40th edition and has been translated into other languages including Spanish, Portuguese and French. What does the book mean to you today?
This book made me a writer. Before I began writing it, I wanted to portray the meaning of life for a simple woman who loses virtually everything. When I finished it, writing had become my purpose - with all the joy and suffering that it involves.
- Have there been translations of your other books?
Yes, the novels Cámfora, Carrer bolívia, Bella edat and País intim have also been translated into one or two languages. Right now, Heike Nottebaum is just translating País intim into German. The literary agent of my Catalan publishers deals with the translation rights, by the way.
- What does it mean to you to be read in other countries?
The fact that my books also find readers in other languages is an opening up of communication. It means that literature unites people from different cultures, however far away they may be from one another geographically speaking.
- Do your foreign publishers, the ones you know, have something in common in your eyes?
I know all my foreign publishers except the Portuguese. And in all of them, I see a special sensitivity.
- You are one of the 130 Catalan authors invited to this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair - what are your expectations of the Frankfurt Book Fair?
My wish, above all, is to make the Catalan literary tradition better known and to draw attention to what it has produced over the course of the years. Since Catalan is a language without a state, many people are completely unaware of it and of the literature written in Catalan. We contemporary authors will present a slice of it and we hope that our works will arouse interest.
Interview by BROOS, Susanne