Books: the best way to get to now a city.

Be it a romantic novel or a brainy essay, Is there a better way of preparing a trip to a city than reading a great book in the place it was set in?  We think that it is one of the best and most enjoyable ways of getting to know what will be visited.  Anticipating your holidays with your imagination and then comparing it to the real scenario!

So if you’re planning to come to Barcelona soon, here is our selection of our 10 favorite books set in Barcelona.

 

1. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

casa dels paraigues books barcelona

You will find this dragon in Zafon’s book

Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you

It is believed to have sold 15 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling books of all time.  An epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love within the Barcelona of 1945.  A labyrinth of intrigue and surprises that have Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter as a magic stage.

 

2. Barcelona – Robert Hughes

It’s curious how an Australian living in New York wrote one of the most fascinating books about Barcelona.  Almost 700 pages that take you from the Roman foundation of the city until one of the most creative artistic movements in the XIX century.

Robert Hughes’ Barcelona culminates with the death of Gaudí and its last pages are dedicated, as it could not be in another way, to his unfinished masterpiece – The Sagrada Familia.

The Sagrada Familia. Gaudí book barcelona

The Sagrada Familia. Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece

 

3. Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell

George Orwell went to Spain in 1936 to report on the Civil War and instead joined – together with more than 30.000 volunteers – the fight against the Fascists.

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Barcelona in 1936

“I joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do”.

First published in London in 1938, the book is still fresh.  It is a superb Civil wartime journal and much of it takes place in Barcelona describing Orwell’s own experiences.

 

4. The Man of My Life – Manuel Vázquez Montalbán

Manuel Vázquez Montalbán was a poet novelist, journalist and essayist that is essential to understand the contemporary Barcelona (and Spain)

The novels he wrote featured by his detective Pepe Carvalho are the best way to understand the evolution of the city during the last half of the 20th century.  Along his 25 books Vázquez Montalbán uses his detective’s adventures to describe, and criticize, the political and cultural situation of Spanish society.

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The Gothic Quarter is the preferred scenario for detective Carvalho

 

From the series we recommend a tittle that in an intelligent manner reflects on the political situation in Europe with the added bonus of delicious Catalan recipes.

 

5. The City of Marvels – Eduardo Mendoza

Barcelona, plays the role of a magical, main character in this historical novel. The action spans the years between Barcelona’s two economically disastrous World’s Fairs of 1888 and 1929.  The book is perfect to understand the life of Barcelona between the Universal Expositions of 1888 and 1929.

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This palace constructed for 1929 Exhibition houses the MNAC Museum

You will find an excellent documentation of the daily life of the city, from the underworld to the fancy and elegant salons, from the port suburbs to the bourgeoisie at the Liceo Opera House.

 

6. Cathedral of the Sea – Ildefonso Falcones

Cathedral of the Sea is a historical novel which takes place in 14th century Barcelona at the height of the Inquisition, with the construction of Santa Maria del Mar serving as background to the story.

Santa Maria del Mar - Detail - book barcelona

The Cathedral of the Sea – Santa Maria del Mar – Detail

It contains everything a good historical book requires: the evil lord raping a serf on her wedding night, summary hangings after a bread riot, long-suffering Jews, demented friars, cruel treatment of women, and above all the construction of one of the most beautiful churches of Barcelona.

Look… look at the sea. The sea has no past. It is just there. It will never ask us to explain.

 

7. Last Afternoons with Teresa – Juan Marsé

Last Afternoons with Teresa is appealing especially to the fans of Barcelona, the hometown of Marsé, who walks the reader through its magical little streets. Published in 1966 “Last Afternoons with Teresa” tells about the love between Manolo, an attractive young motorbike thief, and Teresa, a daughter of a well-to-do wealthy family.

 

8. The Time of the Doves – Mercè Rodoreda

Maybe one of the most beautiful novels written about the Spanish civil war.  The personal history of Natalia “La Colometa” is mirrored on that of many Barcelonians.

Homage to the main character of The Time of Doves book barcelona

Homage to the main character of The Time of Doves in Gracia Quarter

 

The basic story is familiar but deeply moving.  An ordinary shop assistant, Natalia, meets and falls in love with a man, Quimet. He is controlling and somewhat abusive, she fails to notice this and marries him. War, Spanish Civil War, breaks out devastating Natalia’s world. This book is not the average love-during-wartime story as it is not a heroic war story.   It’s just the story of a person that tries her best to deal with the blows of life without showing an immense bravery.

 

9. Don Quixote – Cervantes

In 1615, Cervantes brought back to life Don Quixote, “The sanest of the mad and the maddest of the sane”. He lived new adventures and came to Barcelona on the eve of Saint John’s day. Accompanied by a bandit, he was to be very well received.

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Don Quixote lived in this building near the waterfront

He slept in Antonio Moreno’s house, and was presented to the city from the balcony. He attended a magic show and danced, roamed the streets and was recognized by everyone. He also visited a printing house and the galleys that defend the city.

 

10. From Barcelona – Jeremy Holland

One city and ten excellent stories, From Barcelona is a collection of short stories inspired by Barcelona, its history, its legends and its people.  It gives a fresh perspective on the city fulfilling the interested visitor’s desire for information about places to go and things to see.

 

Have you read them all?  Are we missing any in our list?  Please feel free to enlarge this book list with your favorite readings in the comments below or at our Facebook page.

 

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