Lead Review

  • Book: City of Wonders
  • Location: Barcelona
  • Author: Eduardo Mendoza, Nick Caistor (translator)

Review Author: Tina Hartas



City of Wonders is a quite excellent read. It covers the period 1888 to 1929, and is very firmly sets in Barcelona at the time it was changing from a provincial town into a world city. Two world fairs – the first at the beginning of the period and the second at the end – absolutely set the scene for the rapid expansion.

Onofre Bouvila, the ‘hero’ of this fictional story arrives in the town in 1888 and departs in 1929. He arrives as a poor boy from the countryside, and exits as one of the richest men in the world. His wealth is not always earned honestly (very far from it….) and Barcelona society has a love / hate relationship with him. He profits greatly from the troubles of the times – both internally in Spain and also on a wider European stage. He mixes with pimps and prostitutes, thieves and robbers – and also with some of the pillars of political and industrial influence.

Although City of Wonders is a work of Mendoza’s imagination, I am sure the events described could have happened. The historical references and the description of the city ring true. I learnt a great deal about both the transformation of Barcelona and the broader European politics of the time. And Onofre is exactly the type who would have ruthlessly benefited from the opportunities rising out of the chaos.

Mendoza’s writing is both detailed and vivid in its descriptions. It paints a picture of a city passing through seismic change. And the book is quite excellently translated by Nick Caistor.

City of Wonders is a great read for anyone who is looking for a well told story set against an authentic and violent historical background.

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