Barcelona is both a beautiful and fascinating city, so it’s little wonder that it has inspired many works of literature. The Catalan capital has become the setting for a whole host of successful and even award-winning books over the years. Here are 10 of our favourites.
1. The City of Marvels by Eduardo Mendoza Garriga (1986)
This internationally renowned Barcelona author conveys the atmosphere of Barcelona at the time of its two World Fairs in 1888 and 1929. The main character, Onofre Bouvila, is left to take care of his ill mother when his father leaves at an early age. This doesn’t stop him, however, and he becomes a man of wealth and influence, paralleling the growing wealth of the city.
2. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2001)
Set in post-war Barcelona, this novel follows the journey of a young boy, Daniel Sempere, who comes across a rare book written by a talented, but unknown, Catalan author. Daniel falls in love with the story and begins on a quest to discover his idol’s other literary works and his personal history. That journey takes Daniel to many different corners of Barcelona which help Daniel learn more about both his author and himself.
This book has been such a success that there’s even a walking tour around the city covering the main places where the action takes place such as the Santa Maria Del Mar church and Sant Felip Neri Square.
3. The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2008)
This is another Barcelona-based novel by Zafón and is actually the prequel to The Shadow of the Wind, despite being published seven years later. It follows the story of David Martin in Barcelona’s 1920s and 1930s as he is asked to write a book by a mysterious figure. The novel revisits some of the other Barcelona settings from The Shadow of the Wind, including the bookshop of the Semperes and the ‘cemetery of forgotten books’ where the young Daniel Sempere would visit himself years later.
4. The South by Colm Tóbín (1990)
Written by an Irish writer who moved to Barcelona in his twenties, where he taught English, The South is his first of several successful novels. The novel follows the story of Katherine Proctor, an Irish woman who flees home in the 1950s and heads for Catalonia. There she meets Miguel and later Michael, a fellow Irishman. Tóbín’s work tells their stories as they all look to escape past worlds in the city of Barcelona and the Catalan countryside beyond.
5. Marks of Identity by Juan Goytisolo (1966)
This novel is by one of the greatest living Spanish authors, Juan Goytisolo. This work was a controversial one and banned in Spain until after Franco’s death.
Marks of Identity follows the story of a Spaniard returning from exile in France, only to find himself repelled by the fascism of Franco’s Spain and intrigued more and more by Muslim culture. Goytisolo uses his novel to have his say on the Franco period and the strict control that he had on the people who grew up in Spain at that time. Because of the book’s criticism of the Franco regime, it was only possible for Goytisolo to publish this work in Mexico and it wasn’t until Franco’s death in 1975 that the work was legally sold in Spain.
6. The Time of the Doves by Mercé Rodoreda (1962)
Generally regarded as the most famous Catalan novel of all time, The Time of the Doves is a novel set in Barcelona which looks at the life of a young woman in the city before, during and then after Spain’s Civil War. Rodoreda chronicles life in Barcelona at this time beautifully through the story of Colometa and her life, the war and her relationships with two men. This novel is a fascinating insight into what Barcelona was like in the first half of the last century and was even described by Gabriel Garcia Marquez as “The most beautiful novel published in Spain since the Civil War”.
7. Tattoo by Manuel Vazquéz Montalbán (1975)
Born in Barcelona, Montalbán is yet another of the successful Hispanic authors to feature Barcelona as a setting in his books. His most popular works were his 25 books on his fictional private detective, Pepe Carvalho. Carvalho would look into and solve all sorts of mysteries, visiting all parts of Barcelona as he did so. Tatoo was actually not the first book featuring Pepe Carvalho, but the second after the detective featured in ‘I killed Kennedy’. It was after ‘I killed Kennedy’ that Montalbán decided to use the character for Tatoo, his first crime fiction novel.
Any of these crime novels are well worth a read and very hard to put down. Anybody who has ever visited Barcelona will recognise many of the street names and buildings featured in the series.
8. Nada by Carmen Laforet (1945)
Nada is regarded as one of the most important novels to come out of Spain and has been praised around the world. It tells the story of 18-year-old Andrea who, like the author, leaves the Canary Islands for war-ravaged Barcelona. There she studies at the university and begins to find and define herself. The novel has been described as Spain’s equivalent to The Catcher in the Rye as it covers many similar themes such as the adolescent search for an identity in the adult world.
9. The Colour of a Dog Running Away by Richard Gwyn (2005)
This novel by Welshman Richard Gwyn is yet another book set in Barcelona. It follows a translator and former musician called Lucas, who is living in Barcelona. The story begins with Lucas finding a mysterious invitation to visit a local art gallery, which triggers a series of events that change his life significantly. He meets a girl called Nuria, but as with most romantic stories, that is exactly when things start to get complicated.
10. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (1938)
This is the only non-fiction book on the list and is a collection of the personal experiences of George Orwell in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell arrived in Catalonia in 1936 to, as he said himself, “join the militia to fight against Fascism.” Orwell documents his observations on the war and on the toll it took on the Catalan and Spanish people. You can find out more about what brought Orwell to Catalonia by reading our article on why he came.
- Diary of a Humiliated Man (Diario de un hombre humillado), Félix de Azúa.
- The Ring: The Last Knight Templar’s Inheritance (El anillo, La Herencia del Último Templario), Jorge Molist.
- The Bilingual Lover (El Amante Bilingüe), Juan Marsé.
- Traveling Bunny (Conejo de Viaje), Liniers.
- Blankets (Cuaderno de viaje), Craig Thompson.