Malcolm Burgess, publisher of the City-Lit series, selects his favourite reads for the Catalan capital – from George Orwell to Juan Goytisolo…
Jimmy Burns, Barça: A People’s Passion, 2000
The story of Barça, the city’s legendary football club founded in 1898, is also the epic story of Barcelona and Catalan nationalism.
“The English … watch the heaving, whirling mass of foreign humanity around them, a vortex that allows for no dissent, that relegates the token hundred-odd Real Madrid fans to the most isolated heights of the Camp Nou … the hum of the crowd is overwhelming, its fanaticism disquieting.”
• Camp Nou
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind, 2001
The marvellous gothic literary thriller, set in the aftermath of the Spanish civil war, that leaves no Barcelonan carrer or plaça unvisited!
“Els Quatre Gats was just a five-minute walk from our house and one of my favourite haunts … Inside, voices seemed to echo with shadows of other times. Accountants, dreamers, and would-be geniuses shared tables with the spectres of Pablo Picasso, Isaac Albéniz, Federico García Lorca and Salvador Dalí.”
• Carrer Montsió
Robert Hughes, Barcelona, 1992
Robert Hughes’s magisterial paean to Barcelona: history, travel guide and labour of love from the well-known art critic.
“No Romanesque architect ever came up with anything like Gaudí’s famous arcade in the Güell Park … If sometimes in the rock gardens one feels stranded on a surreal landscape, that is because the place had such a powerful effect on Salvador Dalí: its upper pathways, lined by strange ‘trees’ of rock … Joan Miró … doted on the serpentine benches, sheathed in ceramic.”
• Parc Güell
George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, 1938
The classic account of Barcelona and Catalonia during the Spanish civil war, as Orwell describes the hopes and betrayal of the Spanish revolution.
“Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the anarchists: every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle … Down the Ramblas … the loudspeakers were bellowing revolutionary songs.”
• Las Ramblas
Juan Goytisolo, Marks of Identity, 1966
A searing masterpiece from Spain’s greatest living novelist describes the return of an exile to Barcelona. It was banned in Spain until after Franco’s death.
“Foreigners and natives were walking slowly along the paths. They would stop to admire the begonia pots, take pictures of the walls that had been the scenes of the vengeful executions … brigades of workers had carefully erased the bullet marks.”
Colm Tóibín, Homage to Barcelona, 2002
The Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist has lived on and off in the city since the 1970s and here offers his own highly readable account of its culture and history.
“In 1983 Barcelona built its monument to Picasso in Passeig de Picasso … It was designed by Antoni Tàpies as a glass box in a pool of water containing some old chairs and an old hall-stand, old ropes and sheets with indecipherable messages written on them.”
•Passeig de Picasso, beside the Parc de la Ciutadella
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, The Angst-ridden Executive, 1977
Montalbán’s José “Pepe” Carvalho, the irrepressible left-wing detective, features in 22 novels which capture the reality of Barcelonan life and society.
“He had a beer on Plaza Real, and pined after the long lost tapas that used to be the speciality of the most crowded bar in the neighbourhood – squid in a spicy black pepper and nutmeg sauce … Carvalho knew these people and their ways. They made him feel alive.”
• Plaça Reial
Mercè Rodoreda, The Time of the Doves, 1962
Regarded by many as the greatest novel written about the Spanish civil war: the beautifully told story of Natalia, La Colometa, whose personal history mirrored that of many Barcelonans.
“And my father remarried and me, a young woman all alone in the Plaça del Diamant waiting for the coffee pot raffle … and before my eyes the flower-covered lights and the chains posted on them and everybody happy.”
• Plaça del Diamant
Eduardo Mendoza, The City of Marvels, 1986
Eduardo Mendoza’s extraordinary novel fictionalises the teeming life of the city between the Universal Expositions of 1888 and 1929.
“The traveller 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.”
Colm Tóibín, The South, 1990
Colm Tóibín’s first novel vividly evokes the Barcelona of the exile, as a young Irish woman starts a new life in the city.
“It felt as though I had found the place I had been looking for: the sacred core of the world, a deserted square reached by two narrow alleyways, dimly lit, with a fountain, two trees, a church and some church buildings.”
• Plaça de Sant Felip Neri
Source: The Guardian.