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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Doña Berta

Leopoldo Alas

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To purchase Doña Berta

Title: Doña Berta
Author: Leopoldo Alas
Genre: Novella
Written: 1892 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 59 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: in His Only Son - US
Doña Berta - US (Spanish)
in His Only Son - UK
in His Only Son - Canada
in Erzählungen - Deutschland
Donna Berta - Italia
Doña Berta - España
  • Spanish title: Doña Berta
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Margaret Jull Costa
  • Published in one volume together with His Only Son
  • Previously translated by Robert M. Fedorchek, in Ten Tales (2000)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely, and in part almost comically, melancholy

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 29/8/2016 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)t is a send-up of engagement with the arts, making for a book of wonderful, essential tragicomedy." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Doña Berta of the title is already an old woman when the novel begins, the last of her family, living with a maid, Isabel (called Sabelona), who has served the Rondaliego family for sixty years. Doña Berta lives as far from the center of anything as seems possible:

     The paths here led nowhere; the world ends in Zaornín
       This northern Spanish town is so out of the way that neither the Romans nor the Moors ever conquered it. But then, almost no one seems to make it to here.
       Two men do, decades apart, and play significant roles in Doña Berta's life. One was a wounded soldier, a captain in the First Carlist War (1833-9), that she nursed back to health and fell in love with. He returned to the front -- and was never heard from again -- but left Doña Berta pregnant. Her brothers -- all now dead -- decided she couldn't keep the child, and made sure to give it away in a way that no connection with the family could ever be established, making him a truly lost son.
       Alas nicely sums up this cruel act:
The Rondaliegos had behaved with the cruelty particular to fanatics who sacrifice the relative realities that touch the heart for the sake of absolute abstractions.
       Doña Berta has spent a lifetime wondering whether her one great love, her captain, died forty years earlier, or merely moved on. And it is a new arrival that offers her a story that can give her closure. He is a renowned painter, wandering far afield in search of artistic inspiration -- and he is the first one Doña Berta shares her tale of love and loss with, while he in turn offers her comfort with the vision of one of his own stories and paintings.
       Doña Berta is so taken with what she the painter tells her, and the possibilities his account holds, that she upends her life, mortgaging her house to set off on one grand adventure, to Madrid, to seek out the painting he had described. Traveling only with her cat, she finds herself in a completely different world -- the busy center of the world -- but she is determined to accomplish what she set out.
       Alas' tale is a melancholy one -- gently, even comically so, but, yes, melancholy. Even the cat dies.
       It's a quite charming little work, and nicely done; it works as a whole, and some of Alas' scenes are exceptionally well drawn (or painted ...). And for all the melancholy, it is not wrenchingly (or tear-jerkingly) sad (except, perhaps, for the cat's fate), merely -- in the best ways -- touching.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 November 2016

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Doña Berta: Reviews: Other books by Leopoldo Alas under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Leopoldo Alas (pen name: Clarín) lived 1852 to 1901.

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