The Yellow Rain by Julio Llamazares tr. by Margaret Jull Costa

A village high in the Pyrenees, mostly in ruin, houses one last ageing male resident who imagines those who will eventually discover him and all that has passed.

“Yes, that is probably how they will find me, still dressed and staring straight at them, much as I found Sabina amid the abandoned machinery in the mill. Except that, then, the only other witnesses were the dog and the grey moan of the mist as it caught and tore on the trees by the river.”

CIMG6791Julio Llamazares The Yellow Rain is an elegy to a forgotten village, a way of life, for a man who meets death long before it invites him to join it.

Ainielle is a village in the Spanish Pyrenees that has become abandoned and derelict, no one lives there any longer except this one man who refuses to let go of the past and will experience his last years, months, days in a kind of slow, yellowing reality.

“Solitude, it is true, has forced me to come face to face with myself. But also, as a consequence, to build thick walls of forgetting around my memories. Nothing so frightens a man as another man especially if they are one and the same – and that was the only way I had of surviving amid all this ruin and death, the only way of withstanding the loneliness and the fear of madness.”

A snake bite almost relieves him of his solitary existence, but even then he can’t help but fight against death’s shadows of invitation that sit uninvited next to his bedside.

“The panic and cold of death have long since ceased to frighten me. Before I discovered its black breath inside me, even before I was left all alone in Ainielle, like one more shadow amid the shadows of the dead, my father had already shown me by his example that death is only the first step on that journey into silence from which there is no return.”

Throughout the book, images of yellow and yellowing pervade, as everything succumbs to oblivion, a consequence of time passing and soon we are not sure if it is merely nature or the natural deterioration of an old man’s eyes, tainting everything he sees.

Source: Melancholy Morning by Vizibil

Source: Melancholy Morning by Vizibil

“But suddenly, at around two or three in the morning, a gentle breeze came up the river, and the window and the roof of the mill were suddenly covered by a dense, yellow rain. It was the dead leaves from the poplars falling; the slow, gentle autumn rain was returning once more to the mountains to cover the fields with old gold and the roads and the villages with a sweet, brutal melancholy. The rain lasted only a matter of minutes. Long enough, though, to stain the whole night yellow, and, by dawn, when the sunlight fell once more on the dead leaves and on my eyes, I understood that this was the rain which, autumn after autumn, day after day, slowly destroyed and corroded the plastered walls, the calendars, the edges of letters and photographs, and the abandoned machinery of the mill and my heart.”

Written in the future, the past and the present, in a lyrical style that for me never depresses though we might think it bleak, this ode to a changing landscape that is reverting back to its true nature is haunting, gripping, colourful and soul destroying all at the same time.

Even as it gets a little repetitive towards the end, it is all part of the slow degeneration of mind, body, house, village, life, with no witness but himself, the last inhabitant. Another 5 star read for me.

The author Julio Llamazares, was born in the now vanished town of Vegémian, which he left at the age of 12 to go to a boarding school in Madrid.  He is one of Europe’s most celebrated writers. Hundreds of these villages have disappeared in recent decades as their inhabitants leave for the cities.

Maria Barbal’s Stone in a Landslide tells a similar story, only she traverses the entire life of her female protagonist Conxa, while Llamazares focuses on the end and on one who refused to leave.

28 thoughts on “The Yellow Rain by Julio Llamazares tr. by Margaret Jull Costa

    • I wanted to photograph the page, even the way it is set out is beautiful, part way through reading I realised that every chapter begiinign someho used the same words in not quite the same order as the last words or sentence at the end of the previous chapter. I sensed a kind of rhythm and then went back to reread the ends and beginning of every chapter and found connections all the way throughout the book.

      It’s more of a novella, so definitely worth rereading, I adored it. And if you have a connection to that part of the world, more reason for you to indulge this one and make sure they’ve read it too. It goes well with Maria Barbal’s book, her female protagonist perhaps more resigned than Sabina (our man’s wife).

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  1. I’m so glad that you liked this Claire. I thought it was incredibly moving and in a way I hadn’t expected for when I first read about it I was afraid it would be rather ‘forced’….and depressing too. Instead, I just thought it was beautiful and poignant and I loved it!

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    • I was about to tweet you about this and you’ve arrived before I sent my message. It’s thanks to your recommendation last year that I have this wonderful copy, rescued from withdrawal from Brown County Public Library in Nashville no less!

      I am sure I will read this one again and love my forlorn hardback copy, just like the second hand copy of Primo Levi’s book, this one too contains the scribbles of a previous owner in the back, trying to work out the significance of the yellow rain. 🙂

      It’s a wonderful novella Col, thanks again for the excellent recommend.


  2. It’s interesting you mention Stone in a Landslide as I was reminded of your review of the Barbal novella, they seem to share something of the simplicity of village life. Margaret Jull Costa is another selling point for me as I love her translations of Javier Marias’s work – you’ve selected some beautiful quotes here.

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    • I’ve just posted another amazing quote on the right side of the blog, which I wish I’d put in the review, that return to nature, so poignant, the futility of man’s need to control, nature can wait millions of years if necessary.


  3. Oh, no, new wonderful books and authors to discover and read! Aside from the lovely language, the fact that he is one of Europe’s most celebrated writers makes me want to read him. I’m glad you are taking the trip around the reading world.

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    • It’s a novella too Deborah, so it won’t make your book pile topple, I am sure you will enjoy The Yellow Rain, being a lover of language and having an appreciation for a writer who can evoke with such depth the state of mind of a character. Llamazares really inhabits the mental state of his character and portrays its slow degradation with admirable competence.


  4. I appreciate that kind of lyrical writing. A man exploring his solitude and the revelations of time. The setting is also enigmatic ( a village in the Pyrenees). I enjoyed the paragraphs you selected.

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    • I hope you manage to find a copy Julia, I am sure it is even more pleasurable to read it in the original language. Definitely one of my favourites for 2015 already, and it came highly recommended as an all time favourite translation.


  5. Beautiful review, Claire! It looks like you are reading one amazing book after another this year 🙂 This book reminds me a lot of ‘The Wall’ and so I will look forward to reading it. The yellow images in the book and the picture you have posted are so beautiful. Your description – “this ode to a changing landscape that is reverting back to its true nature” – made me remember what a scientist says in the documentary ‘The 11th Hour’ – “What if we choose to eradicate ourselves from this Earth, by whatever means? The Earth goes nowhere. And in time, it will regenerate, and all the lakes will be pristine. The rivers, the waters, the mountains, everything will be green again. It’ll be peaceful. There may not be people, but the Earth will regenerate. And you know why? – Because the Earth has all the time in the world and we don’t. So I think that’s where we’re at, right now.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ll love this one Vishy and there are so many wonderful passages and then connections between one chapter and the next that segue in a subtle but resonant way.

      Thanks for your quote from the 11th hour, it does not take long for nature to reoccupy what was always hers, it is amazing how quickly these villages just disintegrate and disappear and then years later will be studied again by archaeologists no doubt.


  6. What a beautiful review – this is definitely now on my “to read” list! Something in the language of the quotations reminded me of Michael Ondaatje’s “Divisadero”….so lyrical, and full of distilled meaning. Reading your blog is also making me realise how little I know about non-English language authors – something I definitely need to rectify, with the help of your reviews!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, I hope you add The Yellow Rain to your reading list, it is indeed a delight to discover the true gems of literature in languages other than English, I wish they were more widely available. Being connected to readers through blogs is a great way to find recommendations though, I have a wonderful list of books to choose from this year thanks to their great suggestions and knowledge of the kind of books I like to read.


  7. This is the first book of the year that has really piqued my interest, I will be having some of this next time I am skulking around the streets of a big city like some sort of cuddly vigilante with books in mind.

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      • We do have a local library taken up with empty spaces and computers mostly but every so often it does have the capacity to surprise me so i will take a gander next time I pass through town. I look books that are a bit of a challenge to find, it’s the thrill of the chase and not resorting to Amazon that makes it all worthwhile.

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  11. A fantastic book – a 5-star read indeed! – and a great review.
    A couple of corrections: Julio Llamazares’s family was forced to abandon their now-inexistent (ie now submerged) home town of Vegamián when the government decreed that its valley be flooded to build a reservoir. The book is about the many rural villages and towns in Spain that have been abandoned in favour of an easier and more promising life in the city.
    I was the book’s translator (researching Ainielle itself and is surroundings before translating the first several chapters), until Harvill Press (and later Harcourt, apparently) took over the project from MUP, Middlesex University Press.
    I wasn’t aware until months later, once the rights had been sold and Margaret Jull Costa appointed as its translator.
    A bigger shame, as I was so put off, I didn’t return to professional literary translation again – I declined an invitation to begin and propose Ernesto Sabato’s ‘Before the End’ before the author’s death, for example.
    (Happy to expand on this for any serious translation academics/historians.)
    At the time of my efforts to publish Yellow Rain (in English), it was so difficult to get ‘poetic prose’ published (i.e. understood, appreciated) in English. But isn’t it fantastic?!
    Best regards,
    Bernard Murphy
    (London/Canary Islands)


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