The Gray Notebook
by Josep Pla, introduction by Valentí Puig, new translation from the Catalan by Peter Bush
An NYRB Classics Original
Josep Pla’s masterpiece, The Gray Notebook, is one of the most colorful and unusual works in modern literature. In 1918, when Pla was in Barcelona studying law, the Spanish flu broke out, the university shut down, and he went home to his parents in coastal Palafrugell. Aspiring to be a writer, not a lawyer, he resolved to hone his style by keeping a journal. In it he wrote about his family, local characters, visits to cafés; the quips, quarrels, ambitions, and amours of his friends; writers he liked and writers he didn’t; and the long contemplative walks he would take in the countryside under magnificent skies. Returning to Barcelona to complete his studies, Pla kept up his diary, scrutinizing life in the big city with the same unflagging zest and humor.
Pla, one of the great Catalan writers, held on to this youthful journal for close to fifty years, reworking and adding to it, until he finally published The Gray Notebook as both the first volume and the capstone of his collected works. It is a beautiful, entrancing, delightful book—at once a distillation of the spirit of youth and the work of a lifetime.
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. His relationship to Catalan identity and Spanish history was complex, often ambiguous. His relationship, however, to the scene in front of him, or the days in which he lived, remains fascinating for its clarity, its sharpness, its originality and its wit. On display in his work is a glittering and sparkling sensibility.
Pla (1897-1981) is considered one of the greatest writers of Catalan language, and this beautiful translation lets English readers glory in the quiet strength of his words. At age 21, the author decided to change his style of writing—a little less flowery but not quite journalistic—and he began this diary, which begs to be read slowly, calmly and multiple times....A classic. Readers who travel to the Costa Brava will truly feel what Pla has written.
Considered one of the most influential Catalan authors of the twentieth century, [Pla] was born and raised in the Emporda, and over the course of his life wrote over 30,000 pages of prose in which he diligently catalogued the landscape and the life and habits of the people of the region. His complete works, published and republished over the years, contain marvelous descriptive passages that capture the landscape's history and its complex topography at once.
—Words Without Borders
Josep Pla has long been considered one of the finest writers of autobiographical texts in any of the languages of Spain.
Pla seems to enjoy an almost constant series of presence effects in plays of light and shadows, expressions on faces, turns of phrase, the direction of the wind. His own encounters with presence are what illuminate the communicative potential that the landscape holds, if we approach it the right way.
Born in Palafrugell, Josep Pla was a popular journalist who traveled widely to report on world events. His politics, conservative yet liberal, joined with an ironic skepticism that did not endear him to Catalan leftists and nationalists. Yet by the end of his life he was recognized as the most distinguished prose stylist in Catalan. His devotion to writing is evident in his collected works, which fill forty-six volumes. The Gray Notebook is a diary from 1918-19 that Pla revised over many decades.
—World Literature Today
The grand old man of Catalan letters and one of Spain's most prolific writers.