Life Embitters is Pla’s Pandora’s box of surprises, flitting with melancholic irony from one end of the continent to the other in a constant reinvention of the short story. He collects encounters from the streets of pre-Depression Europe: rogues and strays in boarding houses in Barcelona, a Parisian café-owner addicted to gambling on horses, exiles and emigres struggling to survive in a Berlin struck by hyper-inflation and the rise of Nazism, a Greek shipping agent fond of frogs, a flaneur in St. James Park whose pleasure at the sight of sparrows enjoying a morning tryst soon turns to horror when a penguin decides it’s time for a crunchy snack. These crystalline, bittersweet stories confirm Josep Pla as a master of irony in his portrayal of ordinary lives across Europe between the end of the Great War and the collapse of Wall Street. Like Joseph Roth, Pla observes and records the pain and resilience of those around him, and reveals his own.
Josep Pla was a great noticer of things and places; his gaze was alert and dry; he wrote in a style which registered both the smallest detail and the large picture.
— Colm Tóibín
The grand old man of Catalan letters and one of Spain’s most prolific writers.
— Chicago Tribune
Life Embitters, probably the best book in Josep Pla’s vast body of work, is a literary feast which combines all his best qualities at once: the sharpness of the journalist, the modern style of the novelist, and the insight and lucidity of the autobiographer. Through these stories, Pla distills the experiences of a young man traveling around a dramatically changing Europe. This is the book I recommend whenever someone asks me about Catalan literature.
— Jordi Puntí (author of Lost Luggage)
Pla’s book of “narrations” shows us why this Catalan writer is considered the “finest…of his generation.” Each narrative piece is like a still-life, focusing on the tangible and memorable things of this world. Pla invites us to share his perspective on the complexity and sensuality of our surroundings.
Pla as narrator is ever present. Moving around the capitals of Europe in a time of depression and unremitting melancholy, Pla often serves up small moments of perhaps unintentional brilliance… Students of Orwell’s journalism and of Kapuscinski will be glad to discover Pla, whose melancholy resembles that of his contemporary Stefan Zweig—and for some of the same reasons.
— Kirkus Reviews
An excellent translation by Bush… delightful. Pla loves people and honest conversation. His ear for dialogue is faultless, his snatches of overheard conversation are meticulously realistic. The tone of the stories is often a bubbling good humor... His vibrant immediacy makes him sound utterly current. It’s modern journalism dawning a century early, with a sharp-eyed reporter who describes the world exactly as he sees it. The result is sparkling wit, keen observation, stinging irony and a symphonic control of language with a young author’s headlong approach to experience. The reader happily abandons any hope of plot or character, enjoying just being in the company of this boldly honest young commentator on life.
— Nick DiMartino
Like the The Grey Notebook, Life Embitters was translated by Peter Bush, who has not only captured the spirit of Pla but has maintained a consistent quality over more than 1,200 pages... If you’ve read The Gray Notebook and enjoyed it, then you’ll definitely want to read Life Embitters. If you haven’t read either, it may be worth your time to read both books. It sounds like a lot, but like all great works of literature that make considerable demands on a reader, these works demonstrate that Pla is not just writing about life—he’s trying to make sense of it as well.
— Christopher Iacono, Three Percent
Pla details the foibles, frailties, and eccentricities of his characters in vibrant, earthy prose tempered by a biting sense of humor... His abundant literary gifts allowed him to record in his narratives what he saw, heard, touched, tasted, and smelled with startling clarity and sharpness.
— Kristine Morris, Foreword Reviews
Pla has often been compared with the great Joseph Roth – they were both astute witnesses of their respective worlds... Outstanding
— Eileen Battersby, The Irish TImes
This new translation of Josep Pla is an unclassifiable, happy mix of stories, memoir, essays, anecdotes and travel pieces, all brought together by Pla's wonderfully direct, ironic style... Combining general comment and the immediacy of close observation, he helps us see the world afresh.
— Michael Eaude, Catalonia Today
Some of the nature sketches are extraordinary... [and] Pla’s narrators also offer sharp or humourous observations… Vibrant poetic scenes alongside harsh views of society, and that combination, along with other elements, are enough to justify looking for this work and this author.
— Jeff Bursey, The Quarterly Conversation