Toni Sala (Sant Feliu de Guíxols, 1969) is a teacher of Catalan literature. This professional experience led to the non-fiction essay Petita crònica d'un professor a secundària (Small Chronicle of a Secondary School Teacher) (2001), one of the best-selling and most controversial books of the decade, in which Toni Sala exposes the frustration prevalent among educators today with disarming sincerity and raw candour.
Toni Sala (Sant Feliu de Guíxols, Girona, 1969) is presently the author of two books of short stories and two novels, although it could also be said that he is the author of three novels, or four or five. It is not that there are any doubts about the attribution of the books he has written. The doubts are of another nature. His novel Rodalies (Outskirts) (2004), winner of the Sant Joan Prize and the National Prize for Catalan Literature, is usually presented as the author's "second novel", whereas it would be truer to say that it is his fifth (or at least his fourth).
One of Sala's books that has gone most unnoticed is Un relat de la nova immigració africana (A Tale of the New African Immigration) (2003), a nouvelle that may serve to explain them all. In this work, Sala relates a day in the life of a black immigrant in the Maresme area outside Barcelona: he goes to work in the fields, drops by a telephone office to call his wife (who lives in Gambia), has his day's wages stolen, asks for work in gardens of private homes, goes out in the evening with a few friends, etc.. The theft of the day's wage is what makes the story progress, affording an ending that rounds off the tale. However, if this were the only strand that maintained the coherence of the book, it would be very little. The small everyday history that we are told has a precise location (the remains of the farming operations of the Maresme and its tourist region, on the seashore), and it is this location that counts. Sala does not write a story and place it against an available background, but instead he uses a setting he knows well out of which he makes the protagonist emerge. This would not be possible without an extraordinary power of description. His descriptions are never exercises in virtuosity that burn themselves out, they ever become tedious. They are fragments that set out to reveal the possibilities of a specific setting, including the characters and events he is describing, in such a way that they never have the air of universal clichés that could be "set" anywhere else on the planet.
Sala's first book, Entomologia (Entomology) (1997, Documenta Prize), is a book of short stories that establishes him as a story-teller with a voice all his own. It is no surprise that the book won praise from Quim Monzó, the "father" of Catalan literature today. Entomologia comprises short stories, woven with a style of short sentences, refined and efficient, that serves its purposes perfectly: to treat with coldness and the utmost precision the human insects that people his stories. They are desolate stories, occasionally truculent, which often have a clear symbolic element. Entomologia begins with a description of a dung hill and the animals that populate it: the dung beetles that rove its surface ("but we do not admire these, we only see them as we gaze at the dung hill") and "the worms the size of a noodle, white, clean, smooth as a baby's skin", which live under the pile of steaming, fermented dung (the ones we admire are the ones underneath it all, when we discover them); the insects with which the book is concerned are the beetles ("they live, as we do, under the sun's cape"), incapable of imagining that "all those kilos beneath them, those sinuous white worms and that burning blue dung could exist". What never occurs with Sala is the construction of a symbolic artefact solely for the reader to feel the satisfaction of decoding it. A short story such as "L'avenç cultural" (Cultural Progress), a meta-literary fable - to put it inelegantly - is funny, not because the cause of the stench that appears in the library and that, is impossible to get rid of has to be found, but rather because we really "believe" the whole rigmarole of the investigation as it is seriously planned and not a mere trick to reach a conclusion. Continue reading...