Skip to content

Digging in the earth to dispel grief. The Plains is a beautiful, wistful novel by Federico Falco

At The plains by Argentine writer Federico Falco, a writer returns to life in the country after the break-up with his lover. This makes for a beautiful, wistful novel about grief, origins and the nature of life itself.

'No word tames grief. No word dispels it. No word can truly express it.' These thoughts creep up on the first-person narrator in The plains, a writer who discovers that language - that which always gave him a grip on reality - offers no comfort for the grief that torments him after his friend Ciro ends their relationship.

Forty-two-year-old writer Fede (short for Federico) is a great-grandson of an Italian who fled Piedmont because of World War I and settled on the Argentine pampa. Little by little, the narrator's great-grandfather and grandfather made the earth usable for growing vegetables and other crops. But 'the promised land' turned out to be an unmerciful, hard-to-fill void. As an adolescent, Fede felt suffocated in that environment. As a writer and a boy who fell for boys, he could never really be himself there.

That feeling of never belonging, of having no place, only disappeared when he started a relationship with Ciro in Buenos Aires. And that is precisely why the wound is so deep when Ciro breaks off the relationship rather suddenly after years.

Since writing no longer works, the narrator moves into a cottage in the countryside to plant a vegetable garden. Digging, digging, sowing, weeding, establishing seedbeds - this helps to clear his head and organise his thoughts.

The days thread together with work in the fields as the weather types and seasons slip by. Like his grandfather 'dancing to the rhythm of the music of harvesting', the physical work gives him time for reflection on his relationship, his origins, life and himself.

Inner landscape

The plains is reminiscent in style and subject matter of authors such as Cynan Jones and Jesús Carrasco. It is not the events that are leading; the beauty of this novel lies in the sophistication of the observations and descriptions of the inner and outer landscape.

Falco's sentences are measured, stripped of frills, and often formulated impersonally, as if things are merely named or enumerated: 'Earth on your skin, earth in your hair, dust in your ears, on your lips, in your nose, on your teeth. Snot turning hard and black. The cornfield. The corn leaves, hard, sharp and rough as sandpaper.'

Gradually as the story progresses, as the sharpest edges of the grief begin to wear off, the sentences too become softer, broader. And the depth hidden underneath becomes palpable. 

Shaping life - literally, with hands in the earth; figuratively, in words and stories - turns out to be a way to find peace and tranquillity after all. No words can truly express grief, says the first-person narrator. But with all the words that make up this story, the writer has succeeded anyway.

Federico Falco, The plains (222 p.)
Translated from the Spanish by Eugenie Schoolderman
Koppernik, €24.50

Appreciate this article!

Happy with this story? Show your appreciation with a small contribution! That's how you help keep independent cultural journalism alive. (If you don't see a button below, use this link: donation!)

Donate smoothly
Donate

Why donate?

We are convinced that good investigative journalism and expert background information are essential for a healthy cultural sector. There is not always space and time for that. Culture Press does want to provide that space and time, and keep it accessible to everyone for FREE! Whether you are rich, or poor. Thanks to donations From readers like you, we can continue to exist. This is how Culture Press has existed since 2009!

You can also become a member, then turn your one-off donation into lasting support!

A Quattro Mani

Photographer Marc Brester and journalist Vivian de Gier can read and write with each other - literally. As partners in crime, they travel the world for various media, for reviews of the finest literature and personal interviews with the writers who matter. Ahead of the troops and beyond the delusion of the day.View Author posts

Small Membership
175 / 12 Maanden
Especially for organisations with a turnover or grant of less than 250,000 per year.
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
5 trial newsletter subscriptions
All our podcasts
Have your say on our policies
Insight into finances
Exclusive archives
Posting press releases yourself
Own mastodon account on our instance
Large Membership
360 / Jaar
Voor culturele organisaties
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
10 trial newsletter subscriptions
All our podcasts
Participate
Insight into finances
Exclusive archives
Posting press releases yourself
Own mastodon account on our instance
Collaboration
Private Membership
50 / Jaar
For natural persons and self-employed persons.
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
All our podcasts
Have your say on our policies
Insight into finances
Exclusive archives
Own mastodon account on our instance
en_GBEnglish (UK)