When I Sing, Mountains Dance

This lyrical family story (208 pages) was published in March of 2022 by Graywolf Press. The book takes you to the Pyrenees of Catalonia, Spain. Melissa read When I Sing, Mountains Dance and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.


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When I Sing, Mountains Dance

Irene Solà

This compact, heartrending novel weaves together stories of life in a present-day village in the Pyrenees mountains of Catalonia.

The plot is straightforward enough: A farmer — who is also a poet — is struck by lightning during a storm and dies on the mountainside. He leaves behind a wife and two children. The novel tells the story of their lives.

But the author Irene Solá is a word witch who casts a magic spell. The chapters are told from the point-of-view of various non-human narrators. So, we hear from the family Domenec left behind, yes, but we also get the perspective of black chanterelle mushrooms, a fawn being chased through the woods by hunters, a water sprite, a dog named Luna, and the Pyrenees mountains themselves.

The first chapter begins with the clouds explaining their arrival in the mountains and subsequent storm. Their bellies were so full — black, burdened with cold, dark water — they couldn’t help but release a torrent. ‘[W]e poured water out in colossal drops like coins onto the earth and the grass and the stones, and the mighty thunderclap resounded inside the chest cavity of every beast.’

The stories of each chapter lead to the next, braiding a tale of history, mythology, folklore, nature, the Spanish Civil War, and witches in a way that’s both sweeping and intimate. Although the language is lyrical, just this side of poetry, it’s accessible and packed with emotion, delivering an occasional kick to the solar plexus. To remind you that you’re alive and that sometimes being human hurts.

It also creates a meaningful impression of how connected humans are to nature. Unfortunately, our big brains trick us into thinking we’re separate from or above nature somehow. But in truth, the chanterelle mushrooms and the granite of the Pyrenees will go on without us.

Lest you think this sounds too heavy or precious, there are also delightful and funny passages, like this one, narrated by a dog named Luna: ‘What I like best is when she whistles. With her fingers in her mouth. Because then I come running… And I would run, I’d jump over the car if I had to, and over the house, if need be, and over every danger. Over and through and around all obstacles. Fast, because if she needed saving, I would save her from every bad thing… Because I love her.’

The author Irene Solà is a Catalan novelist, poet, and visual artist. This novel was originally written in Catalan (Canto jo i la muntanya balla) and won the 2020 European Union Prize for Literature.

An early yellow sun slips through the leaves of the trees. And I hear the river flowing happily. Once I step off the damp, sunken footpath and head up, I see a few scattered homes in the distance, on the other side of the crest. The mountains there in the background, they could even be France already, with Espinavell at the far end, and, my god, what a landscape. We have such amazing vistas and incredible mountains, we should be so proud, but sometimes, crowded together in Barcelona, we forget all about them. And they’re gorgeous as anything. Eye-piercingly gorgeous. You have to come up here in the fall, when the crest line turns from one color to another, now red, now chestnut brown, now the beige of a Pyrenean cow’s snout, now ochre, now orange, now deep garnet and colors you’ve never seen before in your life, with a sun yellow as an egg yolk. Man, I love walking through these mountains. I just love it so much. It’s thrilling. The cows, the crests. And there in the distance, the Canigou. That place. Oh, how it fills the heart. — Irene Solá

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