Barcelona is a vibrant city with a rich and varied history dating back well over 2000 years. These ages have giving the place a distinct identity of its own, one that is captured brilliantly in the following books.
The Time of the Doves – Mercè Rodoreda
Set before, during and after the conflicts, The Time of Doves is a faithful chronicle of the city at the time, aided by its use of stream of consciousness writing style. Written by the exiled Rodoreda in Catalan, the novel is now regarded as one the key pieces of Catalan literature as well as one of the greatest Spanish books released after the war. On paper a simple tale of a naïve shopkeeper and her relationship with two men, the book’s magic is in its exploration of its protagonist and the rich manner the tale unfolds.
The Shadow of The Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The most famous entry on this list, Zafón’s novel has sold over 15 million copies and was admired by critics internationally. An intoxicating mix of love, mystery and fairy tale the book follows a book dealer’s son as he tries to hunt down the works of a shadowy author who’s texts have been systematically destroyed. Using post-war Barcelona adds a sense of sobriety to a narrative that often touches the fantastical, helping create a gothic tone and nail-biting tension. A first class page-turner while also acting as a window into the heart of the city.
The Angst-Ridden Executive – Manuel Vazquez Montalban
The third in the immensely popular series of Pepe Carvalho stories has Montalban’s gourmet, wine-loving philosopher of a detective investigates the death of an old acquaintance. It’s a great blend of mystery, politics, and sex but what makes it noteworthy is its description of Barcelona as a whole. A humorous and intelligent read that really captures the city, especially Las Ramblas, as well as the political climate of the time. A highly accessible way to explore this period with a host of memorable characters.
Related Article: Altaïr: Barcelona’s travel bookshop
Nada – Carmen Laforet
This awarding winning debut novel from existential writer Carmen Laforet caused quite the stir in Barcelona when first released. Not an overly political tale, passing the strict censorship rules of the time, the novel still captures the post war city beautifully. Its semi-autobiographical premise deals with an orphan named Andrea, who like the author leaves the Canary Islands to live with her Grandmother in the city with a desire to study literature. Soon a sweeping story of black markets, gambling dens and abuse unfolds to devastating effect.
The Lonely Hearts Club – Raul Nunez
If Bukowski did Barcelona. Nunez’s pre-Olympics set novella is filled with widows, dwarfs, perverts and all the outskirts of the city. Absurd and vivid in equal measure the story follows a seedy needy night porter as he joins the titular club and soon has his life unravel further because of it. The city’s charm is truly brought to the page as Plaza Real, the Barrio Chino and more are used as a backdrop for the protagonist’s grotesque adventures. Not for the faint of heart…