Dripping with a panache that can turn in a comic instant to the most conciliatory humility, Josep Pla's foray into the land and sea most familiar to him will plunge readers head-first into its mysterious (and often tasty!) depths. Here are adventures and shipwrecks, raspy storytellers and the fishy meals that sustain them. After describing the process of beating an octopus with branches to soften up its flesh, Pla writes, These are dishes that must be seen as a last resort. Pla inflects the mundane with the hidden rhythms of power sculpting culture, so that a hot supper is never just food--it embodies economic precarity and environmental erosion along with its own peculiar flavor. A lifetime of reporting on current events gave Pla the necessary skills to describe the world in all its gritty, funny, invigorating detail.
Salt Water is a compilation of narrative essays in which Pla describes the experiences of his youth on the Costa Brava. Translator Peter Bush tells us that though Pla asserts the pieces were written in the 1920s, they were actually written in the 1940s, when Pla 'refashioned' earlier works ... The plot is a thin wire from which hangs a heavy, immensely embroidered cloak. You read slowly, very slowly, but you do progress through the pages ... These are fast-moving, compelling narratives ... If you choose to read Salt Water, you will need three things: patience, a good map, and a notebook. Each essay represents unfamiliar territory that you will traverse, searching for paths and landmark ... Above all, draw upon your patience as you confront thickets of exquisite — and sometimes exquisitely tiresome — detail.
[Pla's] curiosity courses through the book, a series of ten sketches that revolves around the coast of Pla’s native Catalonia ... Though his plots unfold on or near the sea, human culture is ever present. Pla revels in detail ... This book is a product of that fascinated, caffeinated gaze ... The book is listed as literary fiction, but its blend of lived experience, journalistic observation, and fanciful style defies the fiction-nonfiction binary. The distinction becomes meaningless as soon as you immerse yourself in Pla’s well-drawn world. Bush, who won the Ramon Llull Prize for Literary Translation for his work on Pla’s The Gray Notebook, demonstrates his award-winning expertise and decades of experience here. He conveys Pla’s winking humor and sharp observations in language that nods to the era without alienating modern readers ... Overall, the translation left me with the sense that if I sat across from Pla in a firelit tavern over a bream supper, his personality wouldn’t come as a surprise.
Aided by Peter Bush’s remarkable new English translation, Salt Water serves as evidence for what Pla might still achieve in the canon of Western literature ... Even in Salt Water’s more essay-like entries, the plot progresses because of peculiar characters so distinct that, a page after meeting them, Pla does not need to indicate who is speaking ... Of course, the prose shines in part because of the translation. The language is precise and beautiful, and a reader gets the sense that little was lost in translation when language-based jokes remain intact ... even in English, Bush does not betray [Pla's] devotion.