Arguably the most popular book on this list is "The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Set in post-Civil War Spain, the story is that of a book dealer's son who chases after the shadowy texts of the mysterious author. As he gets one work after another, he travels through Barcelona and encounters its most gothic corners and more seductive secrets. The book itself, describing in detail each district, road, avenue, and monument, almost acts as a literary love letter to the Catalan capital!
What's a good book to read if you want to know more about Barcelona? Well, "Barcelona," of course. It's already in the title! But weirdly enough, the book was actually written, not by a Barcelonian, but by an Australian by the name of Robert Hughes. An art critic who lives in New York, it's weird to think he'd have any authority over the Catalan capital. And yet, his introspective look goes into detail the artistic movement that has since defined the city. Not to mention the famous Instagrammable monuments that continue to draw flocks of tourists.
Manuel Vazquez Montalban is undoubtedly one of the most important and influential writers in Spain, particularly in Barcelona. His works, fruitful in commentaries on current political climates and social issues, as well as bubbling in his signature wit, often paint a picture of what Spain is, what it was, and what it can become. In "The Angst-Ridden Executive," Montalban takes his famous detective protagonist Pepe Carvalho into the romantic city of Barcelona, hoping to find out who killed his old colleague. But what readers might find more striking in this book is how Barcelona comes off as this romantic and mysterious city.
To really get to know Barcelona, you also have to be familiar with its history. And as romantic and beautiful as the Catalan capital is, the events that led to what it is now wasn't always rosy. George Orwell recounted in his 1938 book, "Homage to Catalonia" how that area, including Barcelona, was besieged during the Spanish Civil War. He first went to the city as a journalist, reporting the events that defined what was one of Spain's most violent times. And in doing so, he eventually became part of the fight against Fascism.
"The traveler who comes to Barcelona for the first time soon notices where the old city ends and the new begins. The streets become straight and wide instead of winding: the pavements, less crowded; tall plane trees shade them pleasantly; the buildings are more distinguished … another city." wrote Eduardo Mendoza. His 1986 book, "The City of Marvels" shows Barcelona as it changed from a simple city in Catalonia to becoming one of the world's most beloved places. Here, he reminds the readers that even great cities like Barcelona didn't get their beauty and prestige in a day.
With all these men, both native and foreign, offering their own takes of Barcelona, its prestige and history, it's refreshing to see a woman's take on it as well. Mercè Rodoreda is one such author to give that to you. In her romantic work, "The Time of the Doves," she offers an intimate look at the life of women before, during, and after the Spanish Civil war. Not to mention the exploration of both social and sexual liberation that most women in Barcelona, both native and foreign, enjoy nowadays.
Like many beautiful cities that often seem utopian, Barcelona has its fair share of dark secrets. And writer Carmen Laforet put them on full display in her courageous and exposing work, "Nada." Here, an orphan named Andrea is sent to live with her grandmother in Barcelona during post-war Spain. Recovering from the depths of both the Spanish Civil War and World War II, the story takes a look into the sketchy and downright awful side of the city, from gambling dens to brothels with abusive pimps. Fortunately, the city’s crime rate has considerably improved today. Still, the book is a stirring look at a beautiful capital that may not always be what it seems.
Ready for something more extreme? Raul Nunez's "The Lonely Hearts Club" puts Barcelona on the backdrop of a night porter's grotesque adventures after dark. Describing in detail the many famous sites and monuments the characters go to and explore, it might change your opinion of the beautiful city as a whole. But don't worry, this book is nothing but a work of fiction set upon the very real and entirely beautiful Catalan capital. And oftentimes, it pays to see a famous city in a different light. It makes the experience of going to it all the more enjoyable!
Don't let a pandemic stop you from getting to know the beautiful Barcelona. Let these wonderful literary works of art take you on a journey to exploring the Catalan Capital in all its romantic and mysterious glory!