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Ten Great Books set in Barcelona

27th November 2020

Barcelona is the latest city for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Ten great books set in Barcelona.

‘The haunting of history is ever present in Barcelona. I see cities as organisms, as living creatures. To me, Madrid is a man and Barcelona is a woman. And it’s a woman who’s extremely vain’ – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Barcelona, the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, is known for its art and architecture. The fantastical Sagrada Familia church and other landmarks designed by Gaudi are all over the city. Museo Picasso and Fundació Loan Milo feature modern art by their namesakes. There are many brilliant restaurants and places to see. A great city.

Ten Great Books set in BarcelonaThe Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Labyrinth of the Spirits is the fourth book in Zafón’s wonderful The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series

As a child, Daniel Sempere discovered among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books an extraordinary novel that would change the course of his life. Now a young man in the Barcelona of the late 1950s, Daniel runs the Sempere & Sons bookshop and enjoys a seemingly fulfilling life with his loving wife and son. Yet the mystery surrounding the death of his mother continues to plague his soul despite the moving efforts of his wife Bea and his faithful friend Fermín to save him.

Just when Daniel believes he is close to solving this enigma, a conspiracy more sinister than he could have imagined spreads its tentacles from the hellish regime. That is when Alicia Gris appears, a soul born out of the nightmare of the war. She is the one who will lead Daniel to the edge of the abyss and reveal the secret history of his family, although at a terrifying price.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits is an electrifying tale of passion, intrigue and adventure. Within its haunting pages Carlos Ruiz Zafón masterfully weaves together plots and subplots in an intricate and intensely imagined homage to books, the art of storytelling and that magical bridge between literature and our lives.

Ten Great Books set in BarcelonaThe Secret of Vesalius by Jordi Llobregat

Daniel Amat has left Spain and all that happened there behind him. Having just achieved a brilliant role in Ancient Languages at Oxford University and an even more advantageous engagement, the arrival of a letter – a demand – stamped Barcelona comes like a cold hand from behind.

He arrives back in that old, labyrinthine and near-mythic city a few days before the great 1888 World Fair, amid dread whispers of murders – the injuries reminiscent of an ancient curse, and bearing signs of the genius 16th century anatomist, Vesalius. Daniel is soon pulled into the depths of the crime, and eventually into the tunnels below Barcelona, where his own dark past and the future of science are joined in a terrible venture – to bring the secret of Vesalius to life.

Gothic and gripping, this historical thriller makes of Barcelona a diabolical character – emerging out of the dark into a new electrical age, aflame with spirit, superstition and science. Published in eighteen countries, Jordi Llobregat’s bestselling first novel mixes a passionate setting and cryptic mystery into a genre-crossing phenomenon.

The Snares of Memory by Juan Marsé

In January 1949 on an otherwise unremarkable day in an unremarkable Barcelona neighbourhood cinema, a prostitute is murdered in cold blood in the projection booth by the assistant projectionist, one Fermín Sicart.

More than thirty years later, a screenwriter resolves to determine the truth behind her murder, and seeks out Fermin, who has served his time. But though Fermin remembers killing his victim, and exactly how he did it, he cannot for the life of him recall why.

The Snares of Memory, by one of the great Spanish men of letters, is at once an investigation of memory, motive and murder and a pointed dig at the Spanish film industry of the second half of the twentieth century.

Homage to Barcelona by Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín’s Homage to Barcelona celebrates one of Europe’s greatest cities – a cosmopolitan hub of vibrant architecture, art, culture and nightlife. It moves from the story of the city’s founding and its huge expansion in the nineteenth century to the lives of Gaudí, Miró, Picasso, Casals and Dalí. It also explores the history of Catalan nationalism, the tragedy of the Civil War, the Franco years and the transition from dictatorship to democracy which Colm Tóibín witnessed in the 1970s.

Written with deep knowledge and affection, Homage to Barcelona is a sensuous and beguiling portrait of a unique Mediterranean port and an adopted home.

Southern Seas by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

The body of Stuart Pedrell, a powerful businessman, is found in a Barcelona suburb. He had disappeared on his way to Polynesia in search of the visionary spirit of Paul Gauguin. Who better to find the killer of a dead dreamer than Pepe Carvalho, overweight bon viveur and ex-communist? The trail for Pedrell’s killer unearths a world of disillusioned lefties, graphic sex and nouvelle cuisine – major ingredients of post-Franco Spain. A tautly-written mystery with an unforgettable – and highly unusual – protagonist.

Ten Great Books set in BarcelonaThe Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill

When the death of a young witness in a case of human trafficking and voodoo provokes the normally calm Inspector Salgado to beat someone up, he is swiftly removed from the project. Instead, he is sent to investigate a teenager’s fall to his death in one of Barcelona’s uptown areas.

As Salgado begins to uncover the inconvenient truths behind the city’s most powerful families, two seemingly unsolvable cases are set to implode under the hot Barcelona sun.

Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones

Santa Maria del Mar is in the process of being built. This is the city of Barcelona, witnessing the building of a great cathedral. Arnau, son of the Estanyol family joins the guild of stone workers and helps build the church. Set against the background of the Spanish Inquisiton, Arnau has to defend himself against his own brother when he falls for a Jewish woman.

The Whispering City by Sara Moliner

Barcelona, 1952: General Franco’s fascist government is at the height of its oppressive powers, casting a black shadow across the city. When wealthy socialite Mariona Sobrerroca is found dead in her mansion in the exclusive Tibidabo district, the police scramble to seize control of the investigation. Ana Martí Noguer, an eager young journalist, is surprised to be assigned this important story, shadowing Inspector Isidro Castro.

But Ana soon realises that a bundle of strange letters unearthed at the scene point to a sequence of events dramatically different from the official version. She enlists the help of her cousin Beatriz, a scholar, and what begins as an intriguing puzzle opens up a series of revelations that implicate the regime’s most influential figures. The two women have placed themselves in mortal danger. As the conspiracy unfolds, Ana’s courage and Beatriz’s wits will be their only weapons against the city’s corrupt and murderous elite.

Uncertain Glory by Joan Sales

Originally published in Catalan in 1956, albeit in a heavily censored form, Uncertain Glory was the first novel to tell the story of the Spanish Civil War from the losers’ side. Joan Sales fought on the Madrid and Aragon fronts before fleeing into exile. He distilled his experiences of this bitter fratricidal conflict into a timeless story of three men who love the same woman.

Despite his allegiances, Sales avoids a simplistic division into good and evil. The novel’s hero, Juli Soleràs, perhaps the most compelling character in Catalan literature, is more of an anti-hero: half philosopher, half cynic, locked in an eternal struggle with himself.

An American in Barcelona by Xavier Moret

Xavier Moret illuminates the story of the American engineer Frederick Stark Pearson, an entrepreneur with a global vision, whose innovative business ventures brought electricity to Catalonia. From his arrival in Barcelona in June 1911, Dr. Pearson played a key role in the industrialization of the city, building tram and train networks to benefit from this new form of energy. However, tragedy strikes when Dr. Pearson dies aboard the Lusitania, torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat. Suddenly, his ambitious project of urban and spatial planning is in jeopardy.

Moret compellingly envisions these historic events and the daily life of the American and Spanish pioneers in the local villages and work camps—a world reminiscent of the Wild West. He interweaves this story with his account of his own passionate commitment to chronicling Dr. Pearson’s remarkable achievements, and how this process of research and discovery ultimately changed his life.

 

Check out further books to transport you to BarcelonaThere are over 50 in our database.

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