Goodbye, Ramona

By Montserrat Roig, 1972; translated 2022 by Maria Cristina Hall and Megan Berkobien

I had the pleasure of discussing this book with one of the translators, Maria Cristina Hall, at the invitation of its publisher Fum D’Estampa Press. Until this year, I had not heard of Montserrat Roig, and as this is the first translation of this novel into English, it was my first opportunity to read it.

My first emotion upon reading it was worry. How many other novels this beautiful and revolutionary have escaped my notice because they are not available in English? Or perhaps, more precisely, because I don’t speak the language in which it is written. It’s akin to the worry every bibliophile has, that there is simply not enough time to read everything one wants to read.

This novel has three narrators, three distinct voices, all from the same family, all named Ramona. The grandmother’s story is told through diary entries early in her marriage; the mother’s story moves between time periods; and the daughter’s story is roughly told in the present day, i.e. 1960s. While it tracks several important historical events in Catalan history, I was most intrigued by the changes or lack thereof in women’s lives and choices over the course of 60-odd years.

Monica Cardenas (left) and Maria Cristina Hall (right) at The Feminist Library in London.

During our discussion at the Feminist Library in London, naturally I asked Maria Cristina about how motherhood is represented (and not) in the novel. I was intrigued by the fact that all of these women are tied together in mother/daughter relationships, but their stories are almost entirely independent of those relationships. The grandmother relays most of her story before she has children, and shows little sincere interest in them. The mother is more concerned with other relationships and events; and the daughter is consumed by a relationship with an unworthy suitor and political upheaval. Maria Cristina pointed out that the grandmother is mostly concerned that her daughter is not pretty enough to be married off, and that having children, for her, was mostly down to expectation.

It is my belief that mother/daughter relationships can be complicated because we tend to see each other as only a mother or only a daughter, rather than independent, separate people. Therefore conflict arises when we break free of strict “mother” or “daughter” roles. But Roig brilliantly confronts this problem without making us look directly at it: we see these women as they are, people who have complex lives and also happen to be part of a mother/daughter relationship.

This book has no driving plot, but the view into different time periods and alternating narrators makes it a fascinating page turner. Four stars.

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