Review: When I Sing, Mountains Dance by Irene Sola translated by Mara Faye Lethem (2022)


When Domenec – mountain-dweller, father, poet, dreamer – dies suddenly, struck by lightning, he leaves behind two small children, Mia and Hilari, to grow up wild among the looming summits of the Pyrenees and the ghosts of the Spanish civil war.

But then Hilari dies too, and his sister is forced to face life’s struggles and joys alone. As the years tumble by, the inhabitants of the mountain – human, animal and other – come together in a chorus of voices to bear witness to the sorrows of one family, and to the savage beauty of the landscape. This remarkable English-language debut is lyrical, mythical, elemental, and ferociously imaginative.


Many thanks to the publisher for providing me with a beautiful finished copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Sometimes, you pick up a book, and it just speaks to you. From the opening chapter, told from the point of view of the clouds, When I Sing, Mountains Dance captured my attention with its lyrical prose and dazzling imagination. This is a novel that swoops and soars, that zooms in and out with all the panache and confidence of a brilliantly talented writer. Sentences lodged themselves in my mind: beautiful images, profound truths, and humour, too. All of life is contained within its pages, from the beauty of nature to the stink of it, the mess and the decay as well as the majesty.

And humanity, too, is represented in myriad ways. We meet and become attached to a whole cast of characters, whose paths and stories cross at intervals, giving this book a much more epic feel than its modest size might suggest. I loved the moments when, as a reader, I could make connections between the characters, when someone from the past appeared in a new storyline. It creates a sense of continuity, of life carrying on regardless, of a series of moments stretching on and on. And the drifting point of view, taking us from singular to plural, from animals to people, from past to present and back again, just adds to this incredible sense of connectedness. The book feels woven rather than written.

When I Sing, Mountains Dance had a real effect on me – it is poetically beautiful, deeply moving, delicate and light while also containing tragedy and brutality. It feels perfect to me – a book that I know I will return to again and again. I can’t recommend this powerful novel highly enough.

When I Sing, Mountains Dance by Irene Sola translated by Mara Faye Lethem is published by Granta and is available to purchase here.


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