Lacking a mother to advise her, Natalia, whose ideas of romance and beauty seem to be symbolised by the colour white, which she loves to wear, is picked up by a douchecanoe so selfish and arrogant he takes her name from her and proceeds to arrange her life and possessions at his service. Eventually he fills their home with doves, another white creature coerced violently into confinement. Natalia is living in hell, but it seems there is a hell below this one because along comes the civil war and a famine that sucks the heart and spirit and flesh from the shell of the body
We learn all of this from Natalia’s stream of consciousness, creating a special sense of melancholy since she has no interlocutor to share her thoughts. In giving Natalia a voice, Rodoreda extends a feminist solidarity that is absent from her life. Her sympathisers include two women friends but neither of them offer sufficient emotional support; Natalia remains materially dependent on men and her life is defined by them for better or worse.
I think this is a helpful novel of trauma because I felt it demanded a lot of me to understand Natalia’s strange thoughts, the bizarre shapes her world took, the tenderness of odd things that mattered to her, and that it is a kind of violence to be forced to care for someone who has abused you and that this is one of the violences of war. Some suffering poisons the wells and the roots of the crops but nonetheless becomes a solid shaft that you climb and cling onto and when it’s pulled out it’s touch and go with you whether you survive…