Reading Barcelona

By Jennifer Levasseur and Kevin Rabalais


In between dodging Barcelona’s many dogs and smokers and readers, staring up at the city’s majestic patterned facades, and inhaling its lingering scent of sugar and baking bread, we’ve been journeying through some of its recent literature.

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A Not So Perfect Crime by Teresa Solana (translated by Peter Bush)
Winner of the 2007 Brigada 21 Prize for best crime novel in Catalan, A Not So Perfect Crime is a comedy of manners, a slapstick about detective brothers who learned the tricks of their trade from Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle, Montalban and Georges Simenon, and a scathing expose of Barcelona and Catalan politics and the upper class—wrapped up in a satisfying murder mystery built around a secret portrait of a politician’s wife, a poisoned marron glacé, false identity and the mundane ruses that run amok under scrutiny. Beautifully written with mischievous flourishes that put the reader inside a Barcelona few tourists ever witness, from the inside of police investigations and politicians' secret lives to families’ overindulgent Christmases and cava-fueled parties, it’s the kind of novel that feels like it made the author grin the whole way through its creation. This is the first in a series that we’ll definitely continue.

 Gaudí's La Pedrera 

Gaudí's La Pedrera 

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This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets (translated by Valerie Miles)
Winner of the English PEN Award, the recently translated This Too Shall Pass invites readers into the shaky inner world of forty-year-old Blanca who’s reeling from her mother’s death. She decides that traveling from Barcelona to her mother’s home in Cadaqués, along with her sons, their fathers, her married lover and a hodgepodge of friends, may be the only way to move through the grief and into a new understanding of her parent and her future self. Erotic, pacey and unapologetic, this slim novel questions whether we ever outgrow the need to be parented while examining the balm of sex and travel.

Since the loss of her mother, Blanca finds certain objects impossible:

I’ve had to close all my books since I’m incapable of reading, of finding consolation in them now, they bring me back to you, your house lined with bookshelves, your meticulous annual library cleaning, vacuum cleaner in hand, our expeditions to London to find yet another treasure of children’s illustrations, the hours sitting together on the bed in the hotel poring over them, I more distracted, coming and going and doing other things, you completely absorbed like a little girl.

‘You can tell if someone really loves books by the way they look at them, how they open and close them, how they turn the pages,’ you used to say. 

 Mosaic by Joan Miró on Las Ramblas 

Mosaic by Joan Miró on Las Ramblas 

Homage to Barcelona by Colm Tóibín
When a visiting bishop asked Antoni Gaudí why he had taken so much trouble with the towers at Sagrada Familía when no one would be able to see them, the architect said, “Your grace, the angels will see them.” Colm Tóibín provides this gem and countless others in Homage to Barcelona, his entertaining and essential companion to the city where he lived in the 1970s. The book ranges from capsule biographies of Miró and Picasso (“[Barcelona] formed him as a painter,” writes Tóibín) to sections on the city during the Spanish Civil War, its gothic past, as well as adventures in “Food and Sex” and “Nightclubbing.” On top of that, Tóibín will make you wish that all guide books were this elegant and thoughtful.  

 Park Güell by Gaudí

Park Güell by Gaudí

 

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