…………………………In the village of Ainielle in the Pyranean mountains, an old man, Andres, starts what he is sure will be the final day of his life. But Andres is not only an old man moving towards his death. He is also the last inhabitant of the village. So when Andres dies, the village of Ainielle, its history, and its memories, will die with him.
On the face of it, Julio Llamazares, “The Yellow Rain” might not seem an enticing prospect. After all it is essentially a monologue from an old man waiting for death and it certainly tells a story of death, decay and loss. But it is well worth getting past that rather stark storyline for this is a beautiful, poignant and wonderful book.
The story of Andres life is intertwined with that of the village and its inhabitants in the most simple yet engaging way. It chronicles the key events in Andres life from his childhood to old age. It’s a life that is in many ways both hard and bleak, marred by first the tragic loss of his young daughter to illness, then his son to his decision to leave Ainielle, and ultimately to the suicide of his wife. And this in a village slowly being drained of life as both young and old abandon their homes in search of a better, easier, life elsewhere. And yet, tragic as all these things are, perhaps the most haunting part of the story is the 10 years Andres has lived between his wife’s death and the last day of his life as the book opens, for he has spent virtually every day of those 10 years in the most complete solitude as the village’s sole inhabitant, accompanied only by his dog, nature and the crumbling, decaying buildings around him.
There really is no plot as such. It’s simply a tale of one characters life and how he sees the lives of others. And it’s a testimony to how magically this has been written and translated, that every page of this novel is gripping and fascinating. It’s a brilliantly balanced story – the passing of time and memory is just detailed enough to hold you as a reader yet never becomes bogged down in minutiae. There is a wonderful mix of emotion and sentiment in Andres words and memories but they are described with such stark simplicity that they are never maudlin and are all the more real for that. Perhaps above all, in the hands of someone less skilled than Julio Llamazares, this could easily have come across as a cloying, self-pitying and depressing monologue on death. It is anything but that. The best compliment I can pay this book is that it pulls off the spectacular trick of telling the story of the death of a community and everything which made it and yet the book seems to scream “life”!!
I loved this book. I was troubled by it at times and challenged by it emotionally throughout. But it was absolutely absorbing from start to finish. It might not be the lightest of reads but it’s certainly one of the most rewarding books I’ve read so far this year.
Coming from Glasgow I think I know quite a bit about rain! My mum often describes a particular kind of rain as “you know – that fine rain which soaks you through!!!” It always seemed bizarre to me that there might therefore be any other kind of rain than the kind that soaks you! Now I realise she might just have been right all along. For The Yellow Rain is just that. It’s a rain which is haunting and sad but so beautifully told. Andres may well die within the pages of this novel and the village of Ainielle may well die with him, but their story will stay with you long after you turn its last page.
I read this as part of my Everything Espana Reading Challenge which you can find at caffeinatedlife.net.